Breastfeeding My Baby in Taiwan
Below is a post I began in August regarding my feelings around breastfeeding my baby. At that point, we had only been living in Taiwan for one month.
I’m writing today’s post with a heavy heart. Today’s topic is about breastfeeding and even as I write, I’m finding it hard to hold back the tears. This is a transitioning aspect to living in Taiwan that I am really struggling with. It was not something I had even considered being an issue before leaving Canada.
Back home, each mother has the right to choose how to feed their baby. Breastfeeding is highly encouraged and respected, and breastfeeding mothers have the right to feed their baby in public. From my experience, most people do not even bat an eye at a breastfeeding mother as it is pretty common. Some women will choose to cover their baby while breastfeeding and some will not.
I breastfed my son until he was two years old and I usually didn’t cover him up. I have breastfed him on public transport, while walking, while shopping, while at coffee shops, while at restaurants, while conducting condo strata council meetings, while listening to speeches at my own wedding, and the list goes on. I fed in front of my friends of both genders, my grandparents (who could not get enough of watching their grandchild feed!), my dad, my brother etc. Get my point? Don’t get me wrong, there were some times when I did choose to cover up because I felt more comfortable, but as you can see, I exercised my right to feed my baby when, where and how I felt.
Yesterday, here in Hsinchu Taiwan, I found myself in a cellphone shop with a hungry baby and not sure how to go about feeding her. If I were back home in Canada, I would have simply found an available seat and breastfed her. In Taiwan, however, from what I see, mothers are more circumspect. I have never seen a Taiwanese woman breastfeeding in public except for at the baby clinic in the hospital. The baby was completely covered under a Breastfeeding blanket.
Culturally, people are much more conservative around breastfeeding. It is something done in private, if done at all. So in this particular moment, I felt panicked. I needed to feed my baby but I didn’t want to offend anyone or be confronted about feeding my baby. I ended up leaving the cellphone shop, crossing the street and finding a bench across from the canal. This was still a hugely public space, but being outdoors, I felt more comfortable.
.Until recently in Taiwan, many women did not breastfeed their babies. Lately, however, the government has been encouraging breastfeeding. Breastfeeding rooms exist in most malls and public spaces and in all government spaces. In fact in 2010 the Taiwanese government passed a law that that allows people to be fined up to 30,000 NTD if they ask a breastfeeding mother to move or stop breastfeeding in public places. These public places include all government buildings, state run enterprises, department stores, malls, airports, and public transport areas such as train, bus or metro stations.
Last week I went to one of these breastfeeding rooms at Big City Mall. The room itself was colourful and well-stocked for mothers and fathers to take care of their babies. There were four changing tables, a scale, wipes, sinks for hand washing, drinkable water, a microwave to warm up food and milk, and comfortable benches. At the back, there were five small rooms that could only fit a chair (with a pillow). This was where mothers got to breastfeed. I went in feeling awkward and sad. It just didn’t feel right. I felt like I needed to hide the fact that I was feeding my baby.
These rooms, however, were quite nice when compared to some others I have seen. I’ve also been to a few breastfeeding rooms which were far less than comfortable. For instance, I left my table at a well air conditioned restaurant to go into their small room that had no air conditioning at all. It was really uncomfortable for both me and my baby.
In Canada a breastfeeding room is usually a nice room with chairs or couches out in the open. Access to the room is usually only for women, but inside the women can see each other while breastfeeding. It’s a chance to bond with our babies but also with other mothers. We chat, marvel and emapathise with each other.
I don’t want to put down the initiatives by the Taiwanese Government or any businesses to promote breastfeeding. Any move towards encouraging moms to breastfeed is a good move in my books. Coming from a “Westerner’s” perspective I suppose, I just don’t feel that these breastfeeding spaces with individual segregated rooms are promoting breastfeeding in a positive way.
Since writing the above post I’ve become more confident about breastfeeding in public. At first I was covering her up to breastfeed but she kept pushing the blanket off. Then I figured “What the F*** am I doing? It’s 38 degrees out! Of course she doesn’t want to be covered up! I wouldn’t want to eat my lunch under a blanket right now either!” So, now if I need to feed her, I simply do.
Since learning about the breastfeeding law, I feel more confident that people will not confront me. I’ve fed her in restaurants, on the train and while walking around with her in the carrier. That said, I’m still trying to be more discrete than I would be at home. I don’t want to offend people- this is truly not my intention. That said, I breastfeed my baby. It’s her only source of food. So if she’s hungry, I need to feed her!