Breastfeeding in public must be accepted in Hong Kong
There remains room for improved community education that matches the desire of most mothers to breastfeed for the sake of their babies’ long-term well-being
Complaints and self-consciousness about breastfeeding in public reflect a conflict between medical opinion about what is best for mother and baby and cultural sensitivities. The best place to push back against the prejudice is in the public hospitals that serve most mothers. Under a scheme run by UN children’s agency Unicef and the World Health Organisation to remove barriers to breastfeeding in health facilities, Queen Elizabeth Hospital aims to be the first in Hong Kong to be accredited as a baby-friendly hospital. Its public areas are therefore not where you would expect to find that socially conservative attitudes still hold sway.
That was the experience of Amanda O’Halloran, when she decided to feed her baby son in the waiting room before her turn came for a consultation. Nurses asked her to leave the queue and go to a breastfeeding room on another floor because, they said, she was upsetting other patients and there had been complaints.
O’Halloran, whose son was born with a life-threatening condition, was quick to praise the hospital for its care of mother, baby and their family. The single sour note over breastfeeding may have a positive outcome, with the hospital’s nursing consultant Christine Lam Chi-oi acknowledging the need for staff briefings to help breastfeeding mothers where required and let them feed freely. “If a patient is concerned about a mother breastfeeding in public, then we should stand up for the mother and explain [the case for breastfeeding].”
O’Halloran’s is far from an isolated case, as shown by the response from more than 300 women to her Facebook post about it. The Hospital Authority says institutions working towards accreditation have put in place measures such as training staff in breastfeeding in the midwifery course and establishing a lactation clinic. But there remains room for improvement in education in hospitals, workplaces and the wider community, such as shopping malls, that matches the desire of most mothers to breastfeed for the sake of their babies’ long-term well-being .