When Did India Become Ashamed About Breastfeeding in Public?


When Did India Become Ashamed About Breastfeeding in Public?

Illustration: Akshita Monga


onths before I gave birth to my first child, I was bombarded with lessons on the benefits of breastfeeding: A colleague advised me to pinch my nipples to ready my breasts for the “great awakening” and the nurses in the hospital kept saying, “Rajputro ke shara din doodh khavate hobe, bujhle (The prince has to be fed milk all day, understand?)” Once I returned home, my mother-in-law poured sabu dana doodh down my throat every few hours while my Ma insisted I eat rice with roasted kala jeera, all foods that were supposed to enhance my body’s production of breast milk. From the maalishwali to the relative I saw only once in my entire life, everyone, including Dr Spock, had only great things to say about breastfeeding.

As any new mother, I was a little apprehensive about welcoming a new being that would upend my life – and body – in several ways. But it was only a few days after giving birth, when the effects of a Caesarean section wore off, that I truly realised the importance of everything I was being told. And how amazing breastfeeding was. The more my baby sucked on a breast, the more my body produced. It nurtured and soothed him and strangely, it soothed my postpartum blues away. It was the kind of magic you know nothing about until it happens to you. I found myself breastfeeding my child at all hours of the day, dealing with heavy letdowns, bitten nipples, and finally, breast pumps when I left for work a few months later. The journey was as exhilarating as it was tiring, but at the end of the day, it was a deeply private yet obvious thing to do.