Mummy Column: Breastfeeding and Baby Rooms

On a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, I brought my 4-year-old and 9-month-old to the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery at the Melbourne Museum. There were two fairly sizeable play areas with building blocks, tactile displays and mirrored playhouses for the younger children while the older kids had climbing equipment to entertain themselves.

I needed to nurse the baby and was directed to the baby room and was rather impressed at what greeted me. It was clean, had a hot and cold water dispenser, children’s toilet and a specially cordoned off area with a gate for breastfeeding. Within the nursing area were two decent-sized rooms, pulled curtains for privacy and a comfy cushioned armchair.

Getting comfy, my thoughts drifted while my son suckled.

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I thought about my experiences with baby rooms in Singapore and how nice it would be to have rooms as calming, well-equipped and clean as this for mothers (or the occasional father) to feed or change their babies in.

I’ve had my fair share of baby rooms around Singapore and for the life of me, I cannot remember one that made an impression – most were either bare bones, dirty or smelled strongly of disinfectant.

I’d always question whether I should even lay my child down for a quick change or plop myself down to nurse if there even was a comfortable enough spot.

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Don’t get me wrong, there are decent nursing rooms around Singapore but they are very few and far between. I remember being at a mall in town and my daughter needed a diaper change – to my consternation, I realised that, it was tucked away in some obscure corner of the mall. It was not easy to find. At all.

Are the dismal baby or breastfeeding rooms here the result of traditional Eastern societies’ attitude towards breastfeeding being a completely private affair that has only historically been done within the confines of one’s own home?

Do our baby rooms reflect our struggle to embrace the breastfeeding culture? Or the whole business of motherhood for that matter?

Are mothers and babies just not an important enough consideration when designing spaces?

In an article on todayonline.com, it states that “social factors such as inadequate support from the workplace and communities, and embarrassment at breastfeeding in public spaces are also crucial contributing factors” to the decrease in long-term breastfeeding.

I mean how hard is it for F&B outlets to just give us some hot water to make or warm up milk for baby? It is not only about raising awareness but by showing support in the little things.

The Statistics Singapore Newsletter, dated September 2013 on the Prevalence of Breastfeeding in Singapore, states that 99% of new mothers attempt to breastfeed their babies. However, by 6 months of age, less than 42% were receiving any breast milk with only 1% being exclusively breastfed. Asked about factors that would encourage mothers to continue to breastfeed their child for a longer period of time, the majority of mothers said, “given the right support and environment”.

Given the right support and environment – Now, we all know that Singaporeans love their food and shopping. Would it not be fair to say that accessibility and comfort to a private yet warm space where a mother could nurse her child in comfort at a mall emphasised a show of support?

As a Singaporean, I am really proud of the steps my government has taken regarding maternity leave, now being mandated by law. Though it seems that the sentiment hasn’t quite yet made its way to the street.

We still have such a ways to go and there are many avenues we can as a society take to help make parenthood a slightly more manageable juggling act. Designing better baby rooms would be a welcome start. After all, it does take a village.

Rachel Pinto is an adventurous mama – always looking for places to explore with her children Yamuna and Naradha. Her favourites include; traveling, reading and coffee.

Resources:
http://www.todayonline.com/lifestyle/why-singapore-still-uncomfortable-breastfeeding
https://www.singstat.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/publications/publications_and_papers/health/ssnsep13-pg10-14.pdf

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