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Health and wellness

Breastfeeding exhibition in Hong Kong seeks to build support for nursing mothers

NGO also calls on government to extend maternity and paternity leave as more women in city turn away from baby milk formula soon after giving birth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 11:00pm

Clutching a baby doll and sitting atop an open toilet in one of Hong Kong’s commercial hubs on Saturday, eight-year-old Galatea Ma Sze-lok sampled what breastfeeding mothers feel in a city short on public nursing facilities.

The “washroom” depicting yellow stains in a sink and toilet formed part of an art installation at an exhibition set up by local NGO Mamamilk Baby Alliance at Times Square in Causeway Bay to promote public and official support for breastfeeding.

Held just before World Breastfeeding Week takes place from August 1 to 7, the exhibition also invited the public to view breast milk under a microscope to encourage a fuller understanding of its advantages over baby milk formula.

Alliance spokeswoman Ceres Kam hoped the experiential activities would “raise public awareness and support for breastfeeding and that together we can build a breastfeeding-friendly community”.

The NGO called on the government to extend maternity and parental leave as well as set up regulations to better serve nursing mothers in the workplace.

Statutory parental leave in Hong Kong is 10 weeks for mothers and three days for fathers. In June, ahead of Fathers’ Day, officials proposed that paternity leave be extended to five days. The proposal awaits review and debate in the Legislative Council.

More than 300 government premises in the city are equipped with baby-care facilities and lactation rooms, according to Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee. The private sector has been encouraged to follow the city’s lead by the government-appointed Committee on Promotion of Breastfeeding, which was established in 2014.

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Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the city’s equality watchdog, urged officials to submit amendments to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance pertaining to breastfeeding mothers. In remarks delivered during the exhibition’s opening ceremony, Chan called on Legco to approve the amendments by the end of this year.

“Our recommendations clearly stated that directly or indirectly discriminating against breastfeeding mothers is prohibited,” he said. “Furthermore, the definition of breastfeeding should include breast-milk pumping.”

Hong Kong has seen a resurgence in breastfeeding in recent years. From 1997 to 2016, the number of those taking up the practice upon hospital discharge surged from 43 to 87 per cent, the health minister said. Over the same period, the number of those who exclusively breastfed their babies at four months increased from 6 to 31 per cent. Chan described the trend as “encouraging”.