Nursing rooms difficult to find

By Herb Zhang

Yang, a young mother in Beijing, was criticized on Weibo for exposing breasts when she was feeding her baby on a subway. That incident sparked a heated discussion last year about people’s proper attitude to the mother and the lack of nursing rooms in public areas.

In China, no law forces public places to build nursing rooms. There’s only one relevant policy in the “Women’s Health Care Provision” that says businesses and government offices with more than five employees needing to breastfeed their babies should build nursing rooms.

Many countries have policies forcing various businesses to provide nursing areas. In Japan and the United States, for example, a mother’s right to feed babies in public is upheld by law.

In Guangzhou, mothers face problems in public areas, especially shopping malls.

“I’ve never seen any nursing room here, so sometimes I have to feed my baby in the fitting room,” said Xia, a mother with her 8-month-old son, brewing a Calcium beverage for her child. “Like now, a place providing boiled water and small tables would be useful.”

A mother had to fix baby formula on a counter in a mall because there weren’t any nursing rooms.

Xia was shopping in Tianyu Plaza, a shopping center covering more than 600,000 square feet in Tianhe Road that has no nursing room.
In the business center of the Tianhe District, almost all leading emporiums have nursing rooms, but with different standards.

In Taikoo Hui, with clear information signs show how customers can easily find the nursing room. A renovated one with an intelligent system has been open to the public since earlier this year. A ventilation system and a private washroom for children make the nursing room comfortable and clean. With the sensor to control doors and garbage cans, they can be enabled just with a wave of the hand.

“We’ve provided the ordinary nursing room since the mall was completed in 2010. Realizing that more requirements are needed now, we redesigned it early this year. Ideas of environmental protection and intelligence are in it now. And our cleaners check the room after every customer finishes using it,” said Benny Huang, the manager of Taikoo’s Public Relations Department.

“I think this one is much better than those in Korea,” said Kim Seung Mi, a Korean mother changing her daughter’s diaper in the nursing room of Taikoo Hui. She has a 10-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter.

Having witnessed China’s development for 14 years, she feels her first four years in Beijing saw a great difference. “I knew the conditions in the past, when shopping malls had no nursing rooms, even in Beijing, the capital city,” Kim recalled. “In Korea, malls have one nursing room on at least every two floors. And their service attitude is awesome.”

Then she expressed her pleasure at seeing China’s progress in this area. “These years an increasing number of nursing rooms can be found gradually. This nursing room in Taikoo is the best one I’ve ever seen,” Kim said.

According to Taikoo’s Wechat public account, the nursing room won the Hong Kong Designer Association Global Design Awards.

One Link Walk is just across the street from Taikoo. Its nursing room is on the second floor. Information signs can only be found at the service desk on the first floor. Located beside the public toilets, and with only basic facilities, including a chair, a garbage can, and a sink, the nursing room is too narrow for two adults to stand side by side. Some of the cushions are worn. Since it is located in a corner and with no air conditioning, the air is stale and smelly.

“Building a nursing room is just a personal choice by our shopping mall. No authorities have forced us to do so,” said Luo Xianzhi, manager of the Customer Service Department at One Link Walk.

Managers of those two emporiums declined to say how much it cost to build their nursing rooms. According to Lei Da, the manager of the Engineering and Technology Department in Harbin Real Estate Development Company, about $1,500 is enough to build and decorate a basic nursing room, with a place for a stroller, a changing table, a sink, a chair, a garbage can and an electrical outlet.

In China, the introduction of the two-child policy earlier this year may have a significant impact on the need for additional facilities. Based on the data from Family Planning Service Department, more than 100,000 babies were born in Guangzhou in 2015. After the new policy to allow a second child, experts predict that about 30,000 more babies will be born in Guangzhou each year. Therefore, the necessity of providing public conveniences becomes increasingly important.

Proposals for the addition and facility improvement of nursing rooms were submitted to The National Committee of the General Assembly in 2016, from six high school students in Xi’an and several celebrities.

Since 1990, every May 20 has been celebrated as National Breastfeeding Awareness Day. This year, hundreds of mothers in Fuzhou gathered together and fed their babies in the street. The demonstration aimed at getting people’s attention on breastfeeding and calling on more public conveniences for mothers.

Still, few public conveniences are provided for mothers. They are used to finding their way to face those awkward situations instead of asking for such conveniences. Meanwhile, even though some shopping malls are gradually taking action to show their concern, consciousness still appears to be lacking.

In the Grandview Mall, a well-decorated nursing room which contains three small rooms and is available for free. But the information sign is difficult to see.

A 6-month-old baby’s mother, Lin Wei, complained about the inconvenience. “Always there’s no place for me to feed or dress my baby in the mall. If someone’s with me, we’ll cooperate to change the baby’s diaper together. And feeding can only be solved in the toilet,” said Lin.

After being reminded that there’s a sign on the information board about the nursing room in Grandview, she continued, “I’ve heard that there was a nursing room here. Once I consulted a personnel when finding it, but I was told that there’s no room like that. Even though there is one, I can’t bear wasting the time of finding it,” said Lin.

The United Nations started a project in 2013 called “Mother’s Love in 10 Square Meters.” Aimed at creating more nursing rooms and encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies, the United Nations tried to provide more support.

In Guangzhou, to support the calls from that project, the “Breastfeeding Love” volunteer group has managed to build over 80 nursing rooms. The building program makes Guangzhou the first city in China to build temporary nursing rooms. The group also organized activities, such as breastfeeding knowledge lectures.

Liu Xihong, a doctor at the Guangzhou Women and Children’s Hospital, told reporters from that breast milk has the nutrition that any other formula drinks don’t provide.

Other cities are taking action to improve the current situation. In Shenzhen, a neighboring city of Guangzhou, the government published a policy in May that public places providing nursing rooms should increase to 25 percent overall by 2020.

Cities in China are paying more attention to mothers taking care of their babies in public. According to scientific research, mother’s milk is irreplaceable to a baby’s health. Moreover, nursing rooms are not only a useful place but also an embodiment of respect of all the citizens deserve.

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