A dedicated bench set up on the Grote Markt in Kortrijk, in West Flanders, aims to break taboos around women breastfeeding in public.
Despite breastfeeding growing in popularity across Belgium - according to recent figures from Kind en Gezin - there is still a taboo around women feeding their children in this way around others. This reaction can, in turn, make it difficult for them to find a safe space to breastfeed once they have left the house.
"Parents help their children grow up, and feeding them is definitely part of that. When breastfeeding, especially at the early stages of a child's life, this may have to be done 12 times a day and sometimes more," said Nele Wouters, spokesperson for the Opgroeien project run by Kind en Gezin.
Although breastfeeding in public in Belgium recently became protected by law, meaning women can appeal if they are confronted with negative reactions concerning breastfeeding in a public place, not all mothers feel completely at ease nursing their baby in public, as another person's gaze, the unfamiliarity and potential milk leaks can quickly create stress when feeding a child.
"Whether in the shopping street, at home, in the library, on the train or in an amusement park ... if a child gets hungry or a woman's breast feels full, it should be perfectly normal for that mum to be able to feed her child or pump in public," Wouters added.
No judgement or restrictions
To help break the taboo around breastfeeding and to encourage women to breastfeed in public, Elvie, a company that creates innovative female-only and maternity tech, set up the first breastfeeding bench in Belgium, which will remain in place until the end of August.
"We have always believed that every mother, parent and family should be able to choose how and where they feed their baby, without judgement or restriction. Parents should also always be able to have the freedom to go out without worry," Tania Boler, founder of Elvie, said in a press release.
The bench, created by Ghent-based designer Leda Devoldere, is designed so that women don't have to be alone if they don't want to be, and has a place between the two seats where the baby can safely lie down to sleep or for diaper changes.
The breastfeeding spot was purposefully set up in Kortrijk, as more and more women in West-Flanders - 74.7% of mothers in 2020 as opposed to 69.7% in 2014 - are opting to feed their children in this way.
The project also includes a map of Belgium, which shows the 'breast places' for breastfeeding women looking to breastfeed or pump milk in a quiet and safe place without potential judgement.