Sunday, April 27, 2008

Breastfeeding in Moscow

Muscovites, amid a baby boom and changing attitudes towards children, wrestle with public breastfeeding:
Sheer lack of an alternative may ultimately have an effect on general attitudes and official handling of the issue of breast-feeding in public.

Britain, for example, introduced anti-discrimination legislation mandating that mothers be allowed to breast-feed babies wherever they like. Under the law, restaurants, stores and other public establishments preventing women from breast-feeding would face fines of up to ?2,500, or $5,000.

An incident last year in London, in which an exhibit attendant at the National Gallery told a woman to either stop feeding her 11-month-old daughter or to take her to the museum's mother-and-baby room, focused attention on the issue in Britain.

Similar incidents in the United States at shopping malls, restaurants and other public places over the last two decades have prompted many states to prohibit bans on public breast-feeding.

There are also countries, including Italy, Israel and many in Africa where legislation has never become an issue because there is no cultural bias against the practice.

It would appear to be an issue in Moscow.

A highly random and even more unscientific survey of employee attitudes at Independent Media, which publishes The Moscow Times, provided insight into how Muscovites feel about the issue. Of the respondents, who were divided almost evenly between men and women, about 80 percent said they did not think that breast-feeding should be done in public unless in an emergency, and then only discreetly.

This is the same traditional Russian approach that led to the creation of special "mother and child" rooms in Soviet times that are still found in airports, railway stations and some metro stations.

Outside of the transport milieu, however, things are tougher.

Finding herself in the city center with a screaming baby and no plans to travel by plane or train, Charlotte Baring said she had no other option than to feed her infant son on the nearest park bench.

"I was terrified I would get shouted at by a babushka for subjecting my baby to the germs of a public place," said Baring, an interior designer from Britain. "Nobody actually said anything to me, but I definitely got a few stares and funny looks."
Having been on the receiving end of a scolding by a babushka once or twice in my life, I should say that "terrified" is an apt word to describe the feeling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember when I brought my young baby to an all day meeting of early childhood education professionals. When I breastfed my baby, one lady (a fellow college professor/teacher educator) suggested that I "might be more comfortable in the ladies' room."

I was so shocked, I rudely blurted without thinking, "Maybe you would be more comfortable eating in the toilet, not me." I regret my intemperate words, but my instinct was spot on.

Interesting how people -- even those who should know better -- have such a bias against breastfeeding.