KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Women in Asia face widespread harassment for breastfeeding in public, according to campaigners, despite a new poll showing that most people in Asia say it should be protected by law.
In a survey of 9,242 respondents in eight locations across the Asia Pacific, online polling firm YouGov found the strongest advocates of open breastfeeding lived in Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Men were slightly more supportive than women, the polling group said, and single respondents were less enthusiastic than their married counterparts.
The survey found 77 per cent of the respondents said public breastfeeding is acceptable, and 75 per cent said it should be protected by law.
Yet campaigners say the reality often falls short of the numbers released by YouGov due to conservative moral values or a lack of awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.
"Mothers still get dirty looks from people who walk by. A lot of people have been told off for breastfeeding in public," Dr Mythili Pandi, president of the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group in Singapore, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "A women who fed her child on a public bus (in Singapore) was told she cannot expose herself in public."
"But people are standing up for what they believe in. A mother wants the best for her child, that includes nursing the child whenever the child is hungry," said Dr Pandi, a doctor and a mother of three.
Earlier this year, a photo of a mother on Singapore's subway who was nursing a child without hiding her breast sparked a heated debate after the image circulated widely, with critics saying she should have covered up.
In Hong Kong, 40 per cent of breastfeeding mothers said they had faced some sort of discrimination, including "unpleasant experience and complaints", according to a 2016 survey by the United Nations Children's Fund.
Senator Larissa Waters made Australian history last week by becoming the first woman to nurse a baby in Parliament, after new rules authorised lawmakers to breastfeed in the chamber.
The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for their first six months then eat a diet of breast milk and other food until they are two years old.
Breast milk provides natural antibodies that protect against illness, and is usually more easily digested than formula.
Advocates also say it strengthens ties between mother and child and offers health benefits to the nursing mother.