In an effort to help nursing mothers find comfortable places in public areas to feed their babies or pump breast milk, Guangzhou is likely to become the first city in China to issue a set of regulations that require facilities like subway stations and shopping malls to have nursery rooms.
The rules, which are currently under review by local authorities, stipulate that six types of public locations — hospitals, public transportation facilities, art spaces, public service institutions, tourist destinations, and shopping centers — need to build designated areas for breastfeeding mothers to pump. Locations will be fined up to 50,000 yuan if they don’t comply after a warning.
Guangzhou has been making efforts on this front since 2016, when it released a three-year action plan aimed at having more lactation space for nursing mothers across the city. Per Xinhua news agency (in Chinese), by the end of last year, there were 658 well-equipped nursery rooms in Guangzhou, where nearly all high-traffic public areas had at least one private room reserved for nursing.
As early as 2016, the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province had issued a string of measures to encourage more nursing rooms. But according to the Southern Weekly (in Chinese), the initiative was not effective because the rules were not enforced. In an interview with the newspaper, Léi Jiànwēi 雷建威, a local government official in Guangzhou, said that advocates for breastfeeding in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing were looking to follow in Guangzhou’s footsteps. “We are breaking new ground here. It’s likely that other provinces will follow,” Lei said.
It’s worth noting that the new regulations do not require employers to provide basic accommodation for breastfeeding mothers at work. Qiū Yǔ 邱雨, a mother of a five-month-old baby in Shanghai, told the Southern Weekly that nursing mothers in her company had to share a vacant conference room when they felt the need to pump. “It’s like a guerrilla-style battle,” she said, adding that her feeding had been interrupted on multiple occasions when others requested access to the room. Qiu also noted that when working mothers asked for better conditions for pumping breast milk, it’s common for companies to simply relabel a bathroom as nursery room.
The regulations have been met with mixed responses from the public. While many people like Qiu deemed these rules not progressive enough, some feminists argued that high-profile praise of breastfeeding from the government was just another example of how women’s bodies were not their own to manage. In response such voices, Lei told the Southern Weekly that the regulations fully respect women’s rights to decide what they want to do with their babies. “The objective is to construct a system where nursing mothers can feel like ‘the whole society is supportive,’” Lei said.
Despite extensive research highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding, China has consistently lagged behind other countries on both breastfeeding rates and policies that encourage the practice. According to a report released in March by Yicai (in Chinese), a media outlet focused on business news, China has 2,643 nursery rooms in total. Only 7 cities have more than 100. In a stark contrast, Tokyo has over 5,000 nursery rooms.