The World Breastfeeding Week 2019 may be ending on August 7, but Bollywood actress Neha Dhupia, who just launched her Instagram campaign #FreedomToFeed, is encouraging new parents to share their stories and keep this pertinent dialogue going even after the symbolic week concludes.
“What worries me is that a lot of people come forward and talk about it [breastfeeding] in particular for a week… But we need to keep this conversation going… If we talk about it, we can do something about it too,” said Dhupia, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
The actress and former Miss India 2002, 38, who exclusively breastfed her nine-month-old baby Mehr for eight months, says her initiative stemmed from her personal experience as a new mother grappling with the demands of parenting. Just this morning during a magazine photo shoot in Mumbai, she observed that the office — with predominantly female staff — did not have a nursing room for working mothers in the workplace.
“When you have an allocated space for a pantry or kitchen space, why can’t we allocate 50 square feet to create a breastfeeding room? As new mums, we have so much to cater to apart from just feeding the child — you need to make sure she’s comfortable, burped... Are you expected to eat your food in cars, parking lots or toilets? Do you eat with a cape covering you?,” asked Dhupia defiantly.
Her demand is simple. “We want better facilities. Period.”
Her initiative, which was launched in the midst of World Breastfeeding Week, sprang from the little notes she wrote penning down her own experiences and filming small videos documenting her own experience with her newborn, Meher. It will be a no-judgement zone and isn’t meant for just breastfeeding mothers. Even if you feed your child formula or other substitutes, there is no shame in any of it.
“It’s the mother who should decide what she should feed the kid. If the kid is having problem latching on, she should be given the freedom to use the breast pump. You cannot make new mothers feel uncomfortable about their choices. They are scared so much anyway.”
There shouldn’t be any shame involved in publicly feeding your child either. As a part of promoting breastfeeding in the UAE, there’s a strict code where formula milk will not be allowed for sale in the UAE unless it has ‘breastfeeding is best’ label on the tins. Working mothers are also given two 30-minute breaks in a day to help them continue breastfeeding and support natural nutrition.
“I read this post in the morning that a breastfeeding woman invests 1,800 hours in a year doing it, while a woman in a full-time job puts in 1,980 hours [into working]. But you get a chair, cabin and facilities to work, but if we are spending almost the same amount breastfeeding, shouldn’t we have better facilities. Let’s start with that,” said Dhupia.
She remembers a time when she had to go behind a tree while filming to breastfeed Mehr or use the airplane toilet to pump and none of it was easy.
“Let us normalise breastfeeding or feeding your child … I want to build a community around mothers and fathers who are new parents. There shouldn’t be any pressure to breastfeed either. Remember my campaign is called ‘Freedom to Feed’ and not ‘Freedom to Breastfeed’. Having a lack of private spaces and facilities for new mothers is a large part of the problem.”
And ladies, just be easy on yourself, says the former beauty queen and chat show host.
“My entire campaign is free of judgement and you should just come forward and tell your stories through social media. I will repost every story.”
Asked about her own experience of being a new mother, Dhupia described it as a wonderfully rewarding experience.
“But I have been a wreck too and that’s normal. The truth is that you have to remember that every day is better than the previous one initially. Take it one day at a time. You are a mixed bag of emotions with all those hormones flying around. But you will emerge strong,” she said.
“My campaign #FreedomToFeed is not only about mothers to share their journey. It’s about fathers too. I want more fathers to come forward with their stories too,” said Neha Dhupia.
Celebs speak up about breastfeeding
Neha Dhupia isn’t a lone voice in her call to normalise breastfeeding. An army of celebrities are determined to use their voice for greater good.
If actress Lisa Haydon launched her own blog mycityforkids.com to talk about breastfeeding, 'Sports Illustrated' model Mara Martin walked the ramp in a sparkly golden swimsuit with her five-month-old daughter latched onto her.
In 2008, Angelina Jolie was on the 'W' magazine cover with a shot of her feeding her three-month-old twins.
Victoria's Secret model Miranda Kerr did a photoshoot breastfeeding her baby just three months after her delivery in a bid to normalise breastfeeding, while model, author and celebrity chef Padmalakshmi shared images of her breastfeeding as she put on her mascara with the caption: “Multi-tasking: level [100 emoji] on set at @BravoTopChef #tbt.”
Here’s a look at the others who have joined Dhupia’s cause long before her campaign launched…
Bollywood actress and model Lisa Haydon
“Breastfeeding has played such a big part in getting back into shape after giving birth to my baby. Breastfeeding has been challenging + time consuming (literally hours spent everyday trying to stimulate milk supply) but it's such a beautiful way to bond and connect with your child plus all the nutritional benefits that your child gets from your milk,” posted Haydon on Instagram.
Model Mara Martin
"I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalise breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL! But to be honest, the real reason I can’t believe it is a headline is because it shouldn’t be a headline. My story of being a mother and feeding her while walking is just that," said Martin in an interview with fashion magazine, 'Harper's Bazaar'.
Former senator of Queensland Larissa Waters
“Alia [daughter] makes history! First baby breastfeed in the federal Parliament. We need more women in this joint!,” Waters posted on social media.
Bollywood actress Soha Ali Khan
“As a working parent, I found myself having to pump in the oddest of places. I have pumped in an airplane bathroom. When the seatbelt signs came on, I had to hurriedly dismantle everything, spilling lots of very precious breast milk along the way … I think that they [breastfeeding mothers] are doing something that is incredibly valuable, scientific and incredible. It really needs to be supported, as opposed to being shunned," said Khan in an interview with 'India Today'.
“The pressure on us is [expletive] ridiculous … And all those people who put pressure on us, you can go [expletive] yourselves, all right? Because it’s hard. Some of us can’t do it. I managed about nine weeks,” Adele said at a London Concert in 2016.