Stories of breastfeeding mothers being exiled to the bathrooms of department stores and restaurants in the US have infuriated mothers and breastfeeding advocates. So news of a public bus (link in Chinese) in China’s Zhejiang province that has set aside a curtained-off seat for nursing mothers (and a similar program in another Chinese city started last year) has garnered praise on mommy blogs around the world.
The setup is simple—a curtain mechanism costing approximately 300 yuan ($50) cloaks a seat set aside for mothers seeking a private place to nurse. Located near the front of the bus, it functions as a regular seat when the curtain is pulled back, but mothers with hungry infants have priority when they climb onboard.
The idea came from a woman bus driver who noticed that mothers were having trouble soothing their crying babies, and surmised that some felt too shy to feed them. The program has been trialled on one public bus in the city of Jinhua starting on Sept. 18 this year.
“Before, when I rode the public bus, I would always very awkwardly find a nook in the furthest-back row of seats to feed my baby,” one mother told the news website China Economic Net. “But now, with this special seat, I don’t have to be so embarrassed.”
Not everyone has praise for the breastfeeding “privacy curtain” approach, however. Leigh Anne O’Connor, a US lactation consultant, said suggesting that mothers should cower behind a curtain to breastfeed is disempowering to women. The better solution, she tells Quartz, is for society to get over its squeamishness about breastfeeding. ”If we bring [breastfeeding] back, normalize it…we don’t have to hide behind curtains. It’s a normal part of life.”
In China, as breastfeeding rates in the country have declined, the government has touted the health benefits of breastfeeding, encouraging breastfeeding areas at workplaces and curbing some advertising of baby formula—a market that has soared, despite several high-profile contaminations.
For now, the Jinhua City Bus Group says, it hopes women will use its breastfeeding privacy curtain: And if the response from riders is positive, it will extend the feature to more buses.