Lactating MPs get special room in Tanzania's parliament

Lactating legislators were on Wednesday given a special room in Tanzania’s parliament to nurse their babies in the latest development over breastfeeding in public.

Women are routinely castigated in some countries for exposing their flesh to nurse, even though breastfeeding is considered the best health option for mother and child.

“We have allocated a room from which legislators with babies will breastfeed their children,” said Tulia Ackson, deputy speaker of the Tanzania National Assembly.

“ We would like to ensure that the babies are in a good health,” she told the chamber.

Some legislators welcomed the new Tanzanian move as a way to help women balance work and family life and as the best option for babies’ health.

However advocates say women should be free to nurse openly in the chamber, in defiance of critics who call it indecent.

Last month an Australian senator made history by breastfeeding as she addressed the chamber, months after a Spanish MP provoked criticism for nursing in parliament.

Lawmakers are not allowed to feed their babies in the Tanzanian parliament and must now use the set-aside room to nurse when it is in session.

Ackson said the move aimed to encourage breastfeeding and was in line with a directive from the country’s health ministry that babies should be breastfed for at least two years. Yet the country has a mixed record when it comes to nursing mothers.

Last week, President John Magufuli said that schoolgirls who become mothers would not be let back into school after giving birth, and appeared to mock the young mothers for multitasking.

“After calculating some few mathematics, she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom ‘let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby,’” said President Magufuli.

The provision for breastfeeding lawmakers won more support.

Lucy Mayenga, a so-called special seat legislator – who is nominated by her party rather than elected – said the facility would help lactating MPs do both their jobs.

“I think it is a very good thing, the MPs with children will accomplish two things in one” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In March last year, Kenya’s parliament approved a bill forcing companies to set aside special breastfeeding areas for employees with children.

Senator Larissa Waters made Australian history in May by becoming the first woman to nurse a baby in parliament, after new rules authorised lawmakers to breastfeed in the chamber.

The World Health Organization 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.

In Britain, Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, brought her four-month-old son to the Commons, breaking her maternity leave to vote for the historic Brexit bill.

Speaker of the House John Bercow was quick to allay any fears she had about bringing in her new baby.

“I say to the honourable lady, ‘don’t be sheepish about it!’ The little baby is welcome to come in. There’s no problem,” he was quoted as saying.

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