A Sina Weibo user posted a picture of a young mother breastfeeding her baby in the subway in Beijing this week. The user, a 21-year-old woman, wrote that she felt that the mother needed to “pay attention to her manners in public place” and that she should not “expose her sex organ”. As the young mother looked like a rural woman according to the Weibo user who took her picture, she also added that “this is the Beijing subway, not the bus in your village”.
The picture became a trending topic on Sina Weibo under the hashtag of “Beijing Subway Breastfeeding” (#北京地铁哺乳#), and accumulated over 70,000 comments and 80 million views.
“I don’t care if people are watching. I’ll breastfeed when my baby is hungry.”
Weibo netizens collectively responded to the issue; some agreeing with it being inappropriate, some defending the mother, and some attacking the woman who took the picture.
Some mothers write that a mother should always breastfeed her baby when it needs to be fed; she cannot let the child go hungry, no matter if it is on the subway. A Weibo user named Liz confesses: “I used to say I would never breastfeed my baby in public. I didn’t understand this behavior either. Just like most netizens, I thought I could try to avoid it or at least breastfeed in the public toilet. But after I became a mother, I realized there are too many uncertainties when you are out with the baby. I don’t care if people are watching. I’ll breastfeed when my baby is hungry.”
“Once I breastfed my baby in a toilet at the airport because I couldn’t find a nursing room. I still blame myself for feeding him with the smell of the toilet,” user “Anna Bailan” confides. “I wasn’t strong enough to breastfeed him in public. If the same thing happens again, I won’t let my baby suffer again, even if someone might post my boob online.”
“If you don’t like it, you can avoid it instead of taking a picture of it and posting it on Weibo.”
There are also comments teeming with anger and criticism, directed at the picture taker: “As a woman yourself, you will be a mother someday. You are arrogant and feel too good about yourself. You don’t even have a basic conscience. This is exactly what the younger generation lacks right now,” writes user “Sweet”.
A user named Sophya adds: “I feel so angry after reading this. This young mother did nothing wrong but to feed her baby when it was hungry. If you don’t like it, you can avoid it instead of taking a picture of it and posting it on Weibo. Do you have any idea how much damage you’re causing to this mother?”
“How I pity those who would actually belittle a mother for taking care of her child.”
The controversy over breastfeeding in public did not stop at the Beijing subway issue this week. Other news about breastfeeding in public also raised concern amongst Weibo netizens.
The issue concerned a U.S. case, where a man in Indiana took a picture of a woman breastfeeding her son in a restaurant and posted it on social media. “I understand that your child is hungry,” he commented, “but could you please at least cover your boob up?” The American mother, named Conner Kendall, then stroke back with a long post on Facebook. “You have given me a platform and a drive to advocate breastfeeding ferociously,” she wrote: “You’ve inspired me into a call of action. Rest assured, there will be action. Not only by me but others like me who feel you violated them and their rights. How I pity those who would actually belittle a mother for taking care of her child.”
Many Weibo users praise Kendall for being brave and strong. As user “Xiongbi” says: “She’s such a great mother for being brave enough to say things like that. We are also lucky enough to have her educate us and persuade us by her beautiful words.”
“Breast milk is the perfect natural health food for babies, which cannot be replaced.”
“God made mothers able to feed their children from their own breasts. It is the society that sexualizes them. Children do not sexualize breasts until they are taught to do so. True it is! Applaud her for being courageous,” expresses user “Wind and free”.
The “Beijing Breastfeeding issue” has not only created a buzz amongst netizens, it also made them realize the importance of establishing breastfeeding rooms in public. User “Evadi” is one of them: “I hope we can take advantage of this incident to continue urging the government to build more nursing rooms so that we can provide a better environment for breastfeeding moms in public places.”
UNICEF China also got involved in this topic on its Weibo account, and called for the whole society to be more supportive of breastfeeding by building more public nursing rooms: “Breast milk is the perfect natural health food for babies, which cannot be replaced. All mothers and babies have the right to on-demand feeding, including in a public place. A good nursing room could let mothers breastfeed their babies in a quiet and comfortable space. Infants and young children also have the right to enjoy public resources.”
Beijing authorities have been quick to respond to the issue. According to the local news program “News Late Peak” (新闻晚高峰), Beijing is to set maternal and infant rooms in subway stations of large passenger volumes and build maternal facilities in the toilets of other stations.
In the meantime, the woman who uploaded the Beijing breastfeeding picture has deleted her post and apologized for her behavior. “I didn’t expect that my post would cause such a stir on Weibo. I’m young and ignorant. This is a mother’s unconditional love to her child – she can do anything for her child, which I might not be able to experience yet. I’m so sorry for being disrespectful.”
By Yiying Fan
Featured image: women breastfeeding on Beijing subway on Breastfeeding Day, Aug 1st 2015, source).
This article was published on What’s on Weibo.