BEIRUT: The glares she received quickly sent waves of discomfort throughout her body. Ghina Itani had recently become a mother and she was oblivious to the nature of breastfeeding in Lebanon. One day at a café, she decided to breastfeed her newborn since it was feeding time.
“I started breastfeeding her and most people seated around me started staring at me and having their side conversations,” Itani told Annahar. “No one said anything directly to me, but their actions alone spoke volumes.”
Being in an uncomfortable situation like this brought Itani a sense of shame whenever she decided to publicly breastfeed again, adding that this mounting pressure resulted into her eventual abandonment of breastfeeding, settling for other options.
One of these other options is known as formula milk, which is usually made up of various ingredients including purified cow’s milk, various vegetable oils, and lactose. According to a study conducted by Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), breast milk was found to be the best option for a child’s development; having more nutrients and a high antibody count, which aids in the fight against bacteria and diseases. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly suggests women should use breast milk for at least the first six months of a baby's life. This makes the baby less prone to allergies, asthma, respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. Using breast milk also fastens the loss of pregnancy weight, helps return uterus to normal size, lowers risk of breast cancer in women, and is generally more cost effective.
With all these advantages, one wonders why there is so much shame in public breast feeding. Ghina Salloum, a 56-year-old mother and grandmother, stressed how sexism is the main reason for the demonization.
“When you think about it, all you can say is that it is another sexist part of society,” she stressed. “If a man were to show his chest in public, who would say anything? While, if a woman is breastfeeding while still covering herself at the same time, people get offended.”
Salloum lived in Lebanon throughout the 80s and the 90s, experiencing every aspect of the older Lebanese society. So, have times changed?
Salloum compared her experiences to how modern Lebanon treats breastfeeding.
“Back in the 80s everyone was a lot more religious and sensitive. It is way better now, even though it is still not common for women to breastfeed," adding that “I feel like because of that, breast feeding became less common in Lebanon because most people just end up choosing formula milk.”
Highlighting Salloum’s thoughts, a survey ran by BMC Pediatrics revealed that Lebanese women tend to favor formula milk over breast milk in the long run. They revealed that only 35 percent of sampled women continued breastfeeding for over a year. However, it is important to note that various circumstances, not only public breast feeding, can lead to this.
“Everyone has the choice to do whatever they want,” Salloum said. “But a woman should be able to make her own decisions when it comes to whether or not she chooses to breastfeed without worrying about people watching or judging he."
“I think it’s dumb to be bothered by something like that. It is sad and honestly, quite sexist. Why are they so bothered by a baby and his or her mother?” Jana Suleiman commented on the subject.
Welcome to "NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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