Bringing the breast into urban design

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What is the link between urban design and breastfeeding?

That’s the topic a group of researchers set out to explore, with input from breastfeeding mothers from Bendigo, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk.

“Based on the evidence that breastfeeding is important, yet stigmatised in public settings, we set out to transform community spaces,” La Trobe University Associate Professor Lisa Amir said. 

“We have developed principles for making breastfeeding women feel welcome in public spaces, and developed designs for seating arrangements in indoor and outdoor settings.”

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Lack of acceptance of breastfeeding in public meant many mothers avoided it, the researchers found. 

Tactics to avoid confrontation included feeding in public toilets, quitting breastfeeding early, staying home, and expressing milk to feed in a bottle.

“We need options for feeding more privately, without having to feed in private,” a Bendigo mother told researchers.

“The library is good, it has little secret places.”

The research drew on the experiences of 50 breastfeeding mothers. 

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In addition to those from Bendigo and its surrounds, participants came from Melbourne and Robinvale. 

Researchers included Dr Helene Johns, Jenny Donovan, and Julie Rudner of La Trobe University. 

Professor Amir said the project was innovative.

“We are the first group internationally who has used urban design to facilitate supportive environments for breastfeeding women,” she said.

The Eating in Public: Promoting breastfeeding through urban design project was a finalist in the 2016 VicHealth Awards, in the research into action category.

The project comes after a Bendigo mother was forced to leave the Bendigo Marketplace food court in February, after two shoppers complained about her breastfeeding her son. 

About 200 outraged mothers, partners and children staged a Boobs for Babies protest in the same food court in which Luci White was made to feel unwelcome. 

Bendigo Marketplace subsequently upgraded its parents’ rooms.