SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Korea Bizwire) – Facing the challenge of a declining birth rate, the lack of support for breastfeeding in South Korea has emerged as a pressing issue, as mothers and health authorities urge the country as a whole to do more to create a nursing-friendly environment.
The medical perks of breastfeeding have been backed by mounting evidence, including data from the World Health Organization, which suggests babies who are breastfed have fewer chances of suffering from respiratory and digestive diseases as well as allergies compared to those who were bottle-fed.
In addition, babies who are breast-fed tend to have a more relaxed personality as a result of being provided with better stability compared to their bottle-fed counterparts.
While renowned international health organizations like the WHO strongly recommend that babies breastfeed exclusively for the first six months based on scientifically proven medical perks, fewer than one in five mothers in South Korea are thought to be following the recommendation.
Data from the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) last year suggested just over 18 percent of South Korean mothers with children under the age of two breast-fed their baby for six months, well below the global average that is estimated to be 38 percent.
Perhaps contributing to the low percentage of breast-feeding mothers despite mounting evidence of health benefits is the lack of breastfeeding rooms in public across the spectrum, from restaurants and workplaces to state-owned facilities.
The following complaints from mothers are heard on a regular basis: “I breastfeed my baby every three hours. When my breasts become full of milk, there is no place to breastfeed, which makes it extremely difficult to go out.
“Even at famous restaurants, there aren’t many nursing rooms. Some of the nursing rooms in public facilities are in too poor a condition to use.”
Findings from last year’s survey by KIHASA, which was conducted at the request of the Korean Committee for UNICEF, reflects a critical sentiment over the lack of support for breastfeeding in the country, with over 30 percent of the 1000 respondents saying more breastfeeding rooms should be built at work and universities, while 17.5 percent said the social perception of breastfeeding needs to change so mothers can feel comfortable breastfeeding anywhere.
Despite government efforts to encourage and spread the public breastfeeding culture by investing in infrastructure, the lack of requirements for breastfeeding facilities at privately-owned buildings such as supermarkets and public transport is making it harder for South Korean mothers to breastfeed their babies.
Others point out that the prevalent hostile work environment where most working mothers don’t feel they can use the legally permitted breastfeeding time as another issue that needs tackling.
Under the Article 75 of the Labor Standards Act, mothers with an infant aged below one year can claim two paid sessions of 30 minute-long breastfeeding every working day.
However, a significant number of South Korean working mothers fail to exercise their rights, due to peer pressure and a lack of support.
Against this backdrop, the National Assembly Research Service (NARS) earlier this month criticized the lack of effort by retailers and the transport industry and urged them to do their bit to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment.
“It is necessary to set the legal groundwork for supermarkets, department stores, trains and airplanes to be required to build breastfeeding rooms and give supervisors or owners of the business the responsibility to maintain the facilities in a good condition,” NARS said.
The service’s latest recommendation is in line with the stance of other government branches such as the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which officially recommends that private businesses set up breastfeeding rooms.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)