BUT where are the mothers?
No one has declared it a consumer bonanza yet but June-July is the season for super sales. In this megapolis, these months mean the malls are more crowded than ever, choked with bargain hunters and commuters like me who use these cities-within- cities as transit points for the MRT and other terminals.
The strange thing is that, despite the screaming discounts and droves of humanity, I have yet to come across a mother nursing at breastfeeding stations or any spot in the malls I’ve been to.
Perhaps babies go hungry at schedules I’m no longer attuned to. Or nursing moms may be the new refugees.
Many malls have few benches or niches where a person can sit and rest, let alone relax and get the milk flowing for a thirsty infant. Republic Act No. 10028 or the “Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act” provides incentives to institutions that set up a breastfeeding facility. Yet, for now, car parks still outnumber lactation centers.
A mall in Las Piñas has an excess of virtue. Outside its breastfeeding room is a long list of regulations, which would daunt anyone except the most desperate of mothers faced with the hungriest of babies. Did mall management miss the point that such a facility should be comfortable and human-friendly?
Curious if malls in this city do indeed sell everything, I inquired from three retailers about nursing capes or breastfeeding ponchos. These blankets provide a nursing mother some privacy in settings where strangers are present.
Apparently, if I have the money, I can get Zara for babies in this city of a thousand and one malls. Yet, not one of the three retailers I inquired from had in their extensive baby-friendly line a piece of cloth that hangs like a circus tent around a breastfeeding mom. Will it take a fashionista to make nursing in public as hot a trend as showing your boxer briefs or bra straps?
While public space is still a long way from being breastfeeding-friendly, the online portal is more inclusive. A recent email from fellow journalist and marathon veteran Haide Acuña introduced me to the Cebu Breastfeeding Club.
Also known as La Leche League, the club describes itself as a “support group for mothers who breastfeed and moms-to-be who plan on feeding their young with only the best food for babies”.
Their Facebook page contains announcements about regular Saturday meetings that are open to the public. Tips on breastfeeding techniques, complementary feeding and troubleshooting, among other concerns, are shared by fellow moms and lactation specialists.
From the photos posted on Facebook, I see a heartwarming mix of female and male faces. When I went around six Cebu City health centers for a special report on exclusive breastfeeding, which Sun.Star Cebu published last May 20-21, 2013, husbands and partners rarely accompanied mothers and their babies on Well Baby days at health centers.
Yet, according to public health midwives and barangay health workers, fathers, grandparents and in-laws influence greatly the decision of the mother to breastfeed or not.
Haide also emailed that mothers with babies in a neonatal intensive care unit can post messages on the La Leche League Facebook page if they need other mothers to donate milk for their premature babies.
For August, declared by law as breastfeeding month, a flashmob might be organized at a local mall, wrote Haide. I had to go online to find out what this nursing whatchamacallit was: according to Wikipedia, a flashmob is a sudden assembly organized to perform an odd and pointless act in public before quickly dispersing.
The same source notes that when a plan and purpose are behind such a demonstration, the more apt term is “smart mob”.
I started nursing the first of my boys in 1993. The term “flashmob” was coined in 2003. It’s good to know some things don’t change while some do.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 14, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday editorial page column