Breastfeeding in public is normal, says mother who nursed her daughter without a cover on a train

This photograph of mother-of-three Cheryl Lee breastfeeding on the train has gone viral.
This photograph of mother-of-three Cheryl Lee breastfeeding on the train has gone viral. PHOTO: INTERNET

SINGAPORE - A photo of a mother nursing her daughter without a cover in an MRT train has stirred up the debate about breastfeeding in public again.

The photo of Ms Cheryl Lee was taken by a passenger on Tuesday (March 14) when the housewife was on her way home after a gown and clothes fitting for the Mrs Singapore pageant, she told The Straits Times.

In the photo, Ms Lee, who is wearing a tube top, seems focused on something on her husband's mobile phone. Her daughter is feeding on her breast while her son is sitting beside her husband.

She did not realise that someone took her photo, and found out that it had been posted on Facebook page Must See Singapura News (MSSN) only when friends showed it to her, she said.

"It was late afternoon and my daughter wanted to drink," she said. "I did not notice that my photo was taken."

The mother of three, who declined to reveal her age, was "a little upset", but said "at least the response has been positive so far".

A lot of her friends messaged her as they were worried that she would be affected by the picture going viral, so she wrote her own Facebook post on Wednesday night to reassure them, she said.

Her post said: "Personally, I am not too bothered about it since I don't think it is wrong to breastfeed in public. I have a nursing cover, but my girl will cry and struggle when I use it. Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not. I put my baby first so as long as she is comfortable and feeding well, I don't really care what others think."

Her post has been shared more than 750 times and has received mostly positive comments. Many praised her for taking a stand and putting her child's needs first, with some saying people should stop sexualising breastfeeding. But there were some detractors who said she should cover up.

Ms Lee said that she has been breastfeeding in public since her eldest son, who is seven, was born. She used a nursing cover for him as he did not mind it.

"However for my second son and daughter, I have not been using a cover for the past four years of breastfeeding as both of them will fuss and not feed if I cover them up. They will only start to calm down if I let them drink normally without the cover," she said.

She has not had issues before this, and said: "Frankly, I do not really notice if anyone is looking or not as well. I understand that since it is a public area, they also have the right to look if they want."

Miss Charmaine Khuah, 24, told ST that she could relate to Ms Lee's predicament as her son also dislikes feeding while covered. The comfort of her child comes first for her.

The business owner dreaded going out as some stared and gave her dirty looks, she said.

"I want to let the mama know that you did a great job breastfeeding your little one," she wrote in a Facebook post in support of Ms Lee.

But another mother, who did not wish to be named, thought Ms Lee could have done it in a more tasteful manner.

She said while she understands that the child cannot wait, she felt that Ms Lee could have worn a nursing bra or used a shawl.

She is not against breastfeeding in public, but it could have been done in a "tactful way" that did not make others uncomfortable, she said.

There have been debates about breastfeeding in public in the past.

Organisations such as the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group (BMSG) and the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy have been flying the flag for the cause.

They were two of the organisers of a breastfeeding flash mob in 2012, an exercise to drive home the message that it was a natural act and mothers should feel comfortable breastfeeding in public.

BMSG has been promoting breastfeeding through such flash mob events, workshops and free counselling. 

Dr Mythili Pandi, president of BMSG said she thought what Ms Lee did was "amazing".

"Her child was hungry and she nourished her, that's all she did," she said. "I applaud her for what she has done, there's no need to cover up, but you can if you want to." 

Under the FAQs on SMRT's website, the transport operator says that it is best to breastfeed or feed children before they enter the MRT station. It does not address breastfeeding on the train.

"But we understand a hungry child needs to be fed, and we can make special arrangements for you within our station premises. Please approach our station staff for assistance," the website said.