As with most things, South Africa has a pretty stellar policy regarding breast-feeding. Since the first breast-feeding campaign in October 1987, South Africa actively promotes pro-breast-feeding programmes, initiatives and legislation to support mothers and babies.
In the most recent victory against breast-feeding discrimination, Spur has announced that breast-feeding moms are welcome to use their facilities when dining at the franchise. The posters read ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ with an explanation of why the chain restaurant doesn’t find it problematic.
‘It is a lawful act in South Africa for women to breast-feed a child in public. Breast-feeding plays an important role in early childhood development due to its health and wellbeing benefits,’ reads the description.
‘Spur is a family-friendly restaurant, which places a great amount of emphasis on families, especially children…’
Not only is Spur welcoming breast-feeding, but they are also training their staff to protect women in their restaurants. ‘As a group with a large footprint across South Africa, we’re taking a long-term view,’ says Mark Farrelly, Spur Corporation’s Group Chief Operating Officer.
‘South Africa can only grow if we are able to address the developmental challenges facing its citizens. By normalising breast-feeding in our restaurants, we play our small part, contributing to the development of future leaders, the children.’
South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) dietitian and lactation consultant Deidre Smith told Citizen Press that being a breast-feeding mother herself, she couldn’t be more excited about the policy. ‘I think it’s awesome that mothers no longer have to go to the toilet in a restaurant just to feed their babies,’ she said.
Spur has reportedly received some backlash but Smith said she welcomes Spur ‘being brave enough to stand up against its detractors and encourage breast-feeding in its restaurants’.
What’s the stigma around breast-feeding?
The key word here is breast. Breasts are sexualised because women’s bodies are policed for the male gaze.
Breast-feeding is as old as we are and for obvious reasons – the human race wouldn’t be a thing without it. So despite breast-feeding being vital for a child’s development and probably the furthest thing from a sexual act, society struggles to unlearn the inherent value of women’s breasts being attached to sexual desire. When breasts aren’t sexual, they’re disgusting or shameful, and it’s a rhetoric that needs to end.
What does the law say about breast-feeding?
South Africa has one of the best Constitutions in the world that recognises human and civil rights irrespective of gender, race, class or sexuality. But practising what we preach is a different story IRL. It may be legal to breast-feed in public, but the stigma is still hovering like a dark cloud.
‘It’s an indictment on our society that we tolerate topless models in our fashion magazines, but that breast-feeding mothers are chased out of public spaces on a daily basis,’ says Stasha Jordan, breast-feeding activist and executive director of the SABR.
‘A public toilet is one of the most unhygienic and dangerous places to nurse your infant’
‘Many mothers are forced to use public bathrooms to feed their babies rather than face this kind of abuse,’ says Jordan. ‘A public toilet is one of the most unhygienic and dangerous places to nurse your infant.’
The Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees During Pregnancy and After the Birth of a Child (part of Codes of the BCEA and an NB policy that protects workers’ rights) outlines that employees who are breast-feeding are entitled to two 30-minute breaks for breast-feeding or expressing milk each working day for the first six months of the child’s life.
In recent years, the government has made several promising policy changes towards breast-feeding, including promoting exclusive breast-feeding versus formula breast-feeding. But the problem with public breast-feeding is still a cultural issue because the initiatives around normalising breast-feeding are still limited to healthcare or the workplace.
New reform for breast-feeding is on the horizon
But now, intervention policy may be extended to include mothers breast-feeding in other public spaces. The Normalise Public Breastfeeding in SA (NPBSA) movement is a collective of hundreds of women from across the country. The NPBSA drafted the ‘Breastfeeding and Related Matters Bill’, a proposed legislation that protects mothers from discrimination in public – it was submitted to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
The late Joe Maila, former spokesperson for the Health Minister, said in an interview with Cape Argus that the Department of Health welcomes the proposed bill. Maila said that ‘…As government, we fully support breast-feeding as it has been proven as one of the interventions that will reduce this country’s infant mortality… It is the way to go. I think criticism of public breast-feeding is unwarranted and absurd.’
Because been a mom is a beautiful thing😊…Australian Senator Larrissa Waters putting forward a motion on Black Lung disease while breastfeeding her daughter Alia in the Australian Chamber of parliament. What are your thoughts on this ladies? pic.twitter.com/ffFyzO1oLM
— Esther the doula (@estherthedoula) July 13, 2018
‘Breast-feeding is vital to the wellbeing of our future generations.’ said Jordan. ‘Whether in public or at home, babies deserve the best chance at healthy lives, and that means breast-feeding for at least the first six months of their lives. Our responsibility is to encourage and support mothers, not to harass or shun them.’
South Africa is playing catch-up…
Countries around the world are attempting to normalise public breast-feeding across the board. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, organisations preventing women from breast-feeding in the workplace or other public institutions are punished with a fine. Nations like Vietnam are focused on advocacy through media and education initiatives to change the narrative around breast-feeding.
The Department of Health released its National Breastfeeding Campaign last year which asked the question, ‘Why do communities not support mothers to breast-feed?’ But to answer the question, South Africa needs to take a page from popular franchises such as Spur and countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, which have used intervention initiatives to inform and educate the public.
Here’s how you can get involved
SABR needs your help not only to normalise breast-feeding but to tackle low breast-feeding rates, source donor mothers and fund milk banks.
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