I think about all the ways breastfeeding continues to help my kids. I breastfed my son Azul for three years and four months. I am breastfeeding my 11-month-old Emilia. Sometimes, I still pump breast milk for my now 6-year-old Azul.
My favorite part of being a mother is breastfeeding my kids. Nothing compares to the perfect nourishment, comfort, and love that my baby receives when I breastfeed.
But it also makes me anxious when I have to breastfeed in public.
Some of my friends agree that breastfeeding in public is one of the most stressful things we have to do as moms. The “dalagang Pilipina” in me is always worried about making sure my breast is covered. I feel this huge pressure to cover up! And I wish covering up was simple.
Many babies refuse to feed under a cover because it’s hot and they can’t see their mother’s face. Eye contact between mother and child is important while breastfeeding. It helps grow the bond.
Modesty concerns aside, there is also the fear of receiving negative reactions from random strangers. And while breastfeeding in public has gained popularity in the last five years, there are still people who believe that breastfeeding should be done in private.
But moms need to go out, sometimes with our babies in tow. We have the right to breastfeed our babies in the open—in public parks, in restaurants, or wherever, when the need arises. No mom should ever have to feel like they should breastfeed only in toilets, or feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding in public spaces.
I’ve had a few experiences in which I was called out for breastfeeding in public. I’ve been stared at and yelled at. I’ve been asked to leave. I’ve been asked to cover up. But I have also received unexpected support from strangers.
Azul was 8 months old when I finally felt comfortable breastfeeding in public. It was in Tagaytay, in an event organized by our Betterdog family. The dog parents didn’t stare. They talked to me naturally. Someone even asked me if I wanted a drink or snack. It was awesome!
That wonderful weekend experience encouraged me to travel with Azul after he turned a year old. My husband and I decided to try a weeklong trip to Tokyo, where I had the best public breastfeeding experiences of my life—to date.
Nothing beats the Japanese when it comes to support for breastfeeding moms. They came up to me and offered to help us with our stroller. I was given bottled water. At a department store, they offered the use of their private office.
On the trains, seats were given up so Azul could lie comfortably on my lap, even during rush hour. Older Japanese ladies greeted me and smiled at me when they saw me breastfeeding. This was consistent even on our three succeeding visits to Japan.
Fueled by the positive experience, we booked a weekend trip to Singapore. And it was great, too! While I didn’t receive extra assistance, I was left alone. No uncomfortable stares, and no one bothered us. At a museum, they brought me a chair. On the next two trips, I was able to comfortably breastfeed anywhere. No one asked us to move or for me to cover up.
Our Hong Kong trip, however, made me scared. The train had only a handful of passengers, so I assumed it was okay to breastfeed Azul. I had a scarf that covered us because it was winter.
But a Chinese woman moved to the seat in front of us. I didn’t understand what she was saying. She talked louder and louder that my husband felt alarmed. I was counting train stops and praying that Azul would soon feel sated, because the woman was starting to stand up while pointing at us and shouting. As soon as Azul was done, she stopped bothering us. I was so afraid to breastfeed for the rest of that weekend.
And then we took a vacation to the United States. We visited a few cities, and each one brought a different experience. We visited friends in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and New York. We were mostly left alone except for the stares we got in LA, San Diego and San Francisco. I guess it was shocking for them to see my then 2-year-old Azul breastfeeding.
We have avoided Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates because our friends told us that I could be arrested for breastfeeding in public. We felt it wasn’t worth visiting while we were breastfeeding, because babies shouldn’t have to wait very long for their milk.
I wish the Philippines was more open and accepting. One of my more painful experiences here was at a wedding, when my friend told me, ‘Wag naman dito.’ I was just feeding my baby. My breast was not exposed. I thought she would understand because she had two kids. I was wrong.
I wish I didn’t feel like I have to ask for permission from strangers every time I want to feed my baby. It’s just milk. It’s just a hungry baby having a meal. –CONTRIBUTED