Mothers protest their right to breastfeed

RIGHT THING TO DO: Anjula Manga and her baby, centre, supported by other breastfeeding mothers at a protest at Te Awa mall at The Base, Hamilton.
RIGHT THING TO DO: Anjula Manga and her baby, centre, supported by other breastfeeding mothers at a protest at Te Awa mall at The Base, Hamilton.

Last week Anjula Manga was being told to stop breastfeeding her baby in public at a Hamilton shopping mall. Yesterday she was back there with a dozen other breastfeeding mums to protest against her treatment.

The food court in Tainui Group Holding's Te Awa Mall at The Base was occupied by breastfeeding mothers outraged at Manga's experience with a mall cleaner.

Manga posted her story on her mum's Facebook page and outraged mothers posted angry comments on Te Awa's page in response. Yesterday, Manga's post had been shared almost 2500 times.

Manga was visiting Hamilton on Sunday to pay her respects to her late grandmother Nana G, who had disappeared in December 2009. Her grandmother was the subject of an intense search that featured in the media for over four months before she was found dead in the Waikato River.

"Even driving here saddens us," Manga, of Auckland, said. " It was more sad that day as it was the first time I'd taken this little one to see my nan."

Waikato mother Katelyn Hooper was so annoyed by the incident she organised a protest in the mall's food court.

A dozen mothers came out with their babies and publicly breastfed to show their support.

Hooper had been told by a member of the public to stop breastfeeding before in Chartwell mall but she stood up for herself.

"It's in our rights to feed our children however we see fit. People said ‘cover up'. Have you ever tried to eat under a blanket? It's hard to breathe!" said Hooper to the other mothers.

The women talked about their experiences and expressed their support while they watched a table of people without food who seemed to be keeping an eye on the group.

Director of La Leche League, Alison Stanton, said that mothers shouldn't be forced to stay home to breastfeed their babies. "For us, for mothers, the incident has highlighted that breastfeeding in public is still an issue. The positive outcome would be if other shopping malls take the motivation to look at their policies to make sure there is support for mothers to feed. Breastfeeding is completely natural."

Tainui Group Holdings has gone into damage control with chief executive Mike Pohio promising to hold its own event supporting breastfeeding in August.

"My response to the protest was that I think that's great and we are actually taking an initiative to demonstrate our support for breastfeeding."

Pohio blamed the cleaning contractor for the incident and said any disciplinary action was in the hands of that company. He declined to name the contractor.

Although her two older children have been traumatised by the incident, Manga was proud to see all the mothers supporting each other and hopes they feel more empowered to stand up for themselves. "I'm overwhelmed with how many people are here. People need to be aware there is nothing degrading about breastfeeding."

Nancy El-Gamel is a journalism student at Wintec.