"Breastfeeding is how a baby eats his or her food. For those who think a baby needs to eat only under a cover; Have you ever tried eating with a blanket on your head? Especially in a hot summer month? Will you ever eat sitting on a toilet seat? Why then would you expect a baby to do so?" (sic) asks Facebook user Shreya Krishnan.
Shreya is one of the many women who have taken part in the online campaign to normalise breastfeeding in public.
Using the hashtag #breasts4babies, women are sharing their views, experiences and photographs of them nursing their children.
The campaign was started on a Facebook group called ‘Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM)’ – which has over 63,000 members – as a response to the Grihalakshmi cover row. The Malayalam magazine published photos of two women, including model Gilu Joseph, breastfeeding infants, which sparked a huge row.
While some felt that the magazine showed a sanitised version of breastfeeding, others were against a model posing with a child who was not her own. In fact, a complaint too has been filed against Gilu Joseph with the Kerala State Child Rights Commission.
"The campaign started in direct response to what was started by Grihalakshmi. Gilu was getting a lot of criticism and the group, in general, did not agree with the negativity. We also thought it was being blown out of proportion," says Chetana Mrunalini, a BSIM admin and lactation counsellor based out of Bengaluru.
The admins and moderators of the group discussed the issue and began encouraging parents to share their views and stories publicly on social media platforms.
The objective of the campaign is very simple - to increase awareness.
"It is to raise awareness not only about nursing in public but also breastfeeding in general. A parent should have the freedom to breastfeed anywhere they choose to, or are comfortable, or based on the needs of the baby," the mother of two says.
Some of the women, mothers or not, have voiced similar opinions through the campaign. FB user Raksha Raghavan points out that even though women are the ones who feed their babies, they often do not have much of a choice when it comes to 'covering' up.
Chetana says that a common query they get on the group is from lactating mothers, who express concern about travelling with their infants.
Questions revolve around 'How do I nurse my baby', 'Do I have to carry a bottle?', 'Do I have to pump milk?', 'Do I have to get formula?', etc.
In India, many women, especially urban, prefer to nurse in closed spaces when in public - such as designated spaces in malls and airports, and even in the car. This approach, however, is not practical and may not be possible at all times. Also, not all babies may like a cloth covering their faces when they feed.
"One of the primary reasons that breasts exist is to provide nutrition and immunity to the baby, along with fostering a sense of security and bonding with the mother and infant," Chetana says. However, the problem arises as breasts are more often seen in a sexual context.
She adds that BSIM encourages mothers to take their baby along wherever they go and breastfeed on the go. "It can get uncomfortable or awkward with a mother not really trying to expose their breast and simultaneously trying to feed the baby and ensure that he/she has latched on properly. This can be even more challenging for new mothers and with the whole perception around breasts. Women often feel vulnerable. Ultimately the choice lies with how comfortable the parent is," she says.
Her personal experience too was similar, but what helped her was seeing her friends breastfeed their baby comfortably in public, and also having a supportive husband.
The campaign also hopes that when other parents read these posts and see the photographs, they realise that they are not alone and that breastfeeding, irrespective of where it is being done, is very normal.