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A Qualitative Study on Public Breastfeeding: What’s Appropriate and Inappropriate in Penang, Malaysia?

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Background: Cultural taboos on public breastfeeding can disturb the norms we possess on sexuality, human nature and relationship between men and women. A woman may experience a sense of rejection or acceptance from the public when she publicly breastfeeds. Objective: This study weighs in on attitudes and reactions of mothers and the public on public breastfeeding as well as to understand the level of comfort and acceptance of public breastfeeding. Methods: A sample size of 40 people which include 20 Malaysian mothers were interviewed in-depth based on designed questionnaires on their perceptions on public breastfeeding and an Implicit Association Test (IAT) was administered to a sample of 10 Malaysian women and 10 Malaysian men in Penang, Malaysia to measure concept association (‘inappropriate,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘sexualized’ and ‘nurturing’) with breasts. Results: Overall, Malaysian mothers expressed positive and negative thoughts on public breastfeeding. Support for public breastfeeding is evident among Malaysian mothers. However, the issue of embarrassment, discretion and privacy were brought up. Baby rooms have been discovered to be a channel for Malaysian women to protect their modesty rather than breastfeed publicly. The Malaysian public have expressed a stereotype of breasts, associating it with sexual purposes rather than nurturing purposes. Public breastfeeding is seen as a sexualized act rather than a nurturing act. Conclusion: Stigma for public breastfeeding proves to be present in the Malaysian society. Public breastfeeding is supported by mothers but are encouraged to breastfeed in privacy and with discretion. The Malaysian public still associates breasts with sexualisation rather than nurturing. Men play a crucial role in changing the mind-set of how women view public breastfeeding.
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Keywords: Attitudes; Mothers; Perception; Public Breastfeeding; Reactions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, Malaysia 2: Department of Psychology, Segi University Penang, Malaysia

Publication date: April 1, 2017

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