Breastfeeding Competition

Thailand's First Ever

Bangkok Post, May 27, 2000

HEALTH: Thailand's first-ever breastfeeding contest draws cries of hunger, tears of joy, and a better awareness of the rearing of children

The Best of the Breast
Jutarat Tongpiam

A breast feeding contest in public!? "Are you kidding?" is perhaps the first thought to come to mind. What will they do? And more precisely, how will they judge it, and with what criteria?In fact just such a contest happened last week, and like any other contest, there was a winner and some runners-up, but more importantly, it brought better recognition of breastfeeding among Thai parents.

The "Healthy Mum 2000" contest was held by New Zealand Milk Thailand Ltd at the Mall Department Store, Bangkapi branch. The event-the first-ever breastfeeding contest here-drew almost 1,250 breastfeeding mothers from around the country.

Applications flooded in, well beyond the organisers' expectations-on the hot line, by fax, and through walk-in applications at every branch of the Mall Department Store.

In addition to those from Bangkok, many mothers came from provinces as far away as Mae Hong Son, Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Of them, just 272 contestants were selected for the actual contest. Only 50 went on to the final round after their breastfeeding was examined.

The panel of judges consisted of nursing professors from Mahidol University's Faculty of Nursing and a few experts on mother-and-child development. As the 50 finalists and their babies got down to their business, the mothers had to answer the question of what they would do to promote breastfeeding if they won the contest.

Their answer, and what it said about their attitude toward breastfeeding, was part of the selection process. The judges also looked at the mothers' behaviour, scrutinising such things as the interaction between them and the babies, their method of taking care of their breast, the baby's and the mother's health, the duration of the breastfeeding, and proper breastfeeding practices, such as techniques and positions of both the mother and baby.

Suprisingly, many of the contestants were not housewives but full-time working women from both private companies and government agencies. There were accountants, sales managers, brand managers, public relations officers and others.

Judges in the "Healthy Mum 2000" contest looked at various aspects of the mothers' and babies' interaction, from their general health to the duration of the breastfeeding, and the positions of both mother and child.
Most of them do housework and take care of their babies themselves, without helpers or maids. Fortunately, some get a hand from their husbands.

Among these was Natrchanok Tawasiko, 31, who works as a sales manager at Billion Info Group. She and her husband, Police Lance Sergeant Tawin Tawasiko, take care of their baby and do chores together.

"We help each other-no 'husband's' or 'wife's' jobs. That helps tighten our family's relationships. He understands that I have lots of responsibility for being a mother, wife, and working woman. Our baby, Nong Dear, is very close to him," said Mrs Natrchanok proudly as she watched her husband crooning for their child in his embrace.

At the event, two temporary contest rooms were built so the mothers would have privacy while breastfeeding. Each room had a few small windows with hanging curtains to let the contestants look out, and only the judges could enter to watch the activities inside. The public and family members had to wait anxiously in the rows of seating provided outside the rooms.

Carrying the babies in their arms, however, the mothers were more focused on their children's needs than their own privacy. The babies, of course, had no idea that the contest was only 20 minutes away, and often just searched for their meal whenever hunger invaded their minds. When they did, many mothers simply opened their blouses and fed their babies on the spot-regardless of the hundreds of pairs of eyes on them.

"If we are too embarrassed, our babies will starve. And we mothers never want that to happen," said one contestant.

Despite their mothers' apparent devotion, some babies were not easily satisfied, yelling and even swinging their tiny fists into their mums' chests when the milk did not come on time, but that didn't seem to dampen their mothers' pride.

"While some mothers cried for joy, some had to cope with unanticipated problems. For example, some babies preferred to stare at the judges and make noises at them rather than take their meals, while others would not let their mums' breasts go when the contest was over," said Assoc Prof Lawan Pholsompop of Mahidol University's Faculty of Nursing, who was among the judges.

Many of the contestants were supported during the contest by their husbands and relatives, some of whom took photos of their wives and children while awaiting the announcement for them to gather on the stage. Others carried video cameras to record the cheerful event.

Among those husbands standing by their wives' sides were 30-year-old Police Lance Sergeant Tawin and 29-year-old Witsanu Jindawan, both of whom strongly promoted breastfeeding. They said that breast milk strengthens their babies' immune systems and promotes growth and development as well as a healthy relationship between mother and child.

"Some people misunderstand that breastfeeding causes mothers to get an undesirable figure. Actually, it doesn't. And even if it did, who cares! We fathers want mothers-real mothers, not models or actresses for our babies," chuckled Mr Witsanu, who works for an advertising agency.

Carrying his five-month old baby, Mr Tawin added, "Breastfeeding is a crucial time when I can see the interaction between my wife and my child. It's wonderful and makes me very proud to be part of their lives. I also take care of my baby at night and on my day off. Although the awards were tempting, many of the contestants said they came for fun-and to see what other breastfeeding mothers were doing.

"I talked with other mothers. We don't care much about the result. We mostly discussed our babies' health, how to take care of them and feed them well, and to solve problems that come up," said Vipaporn Prateepasen, a 25-year-old housewife whose baby is four months old.

Some mothers were inspired to use the contest as a platform for their babies to socialise. One of them was 35-year-old Aisa Nutprasert.

"I want my baby to be confident and sociable when he grows up. He seemed to be having fun here, since he smiled and tried to talk a lot with other babies."That seemed to be the case with most of the babies in the contest. The atmosphere was not tense or full of screams, on the contrary the babies smiled happily and were eager to interact with the people around them.

"The outcome we expect is that all the mothers will gain accurate knowledge of breastfeeding and how to care for themselves, including a proper diet, which will help them produce adequate milk for the babies," said chairperson of the judging committee, Asst Prof Dr Suree Ontrakan of the Faculty of Medicine at Mahidol University.

During the contest, the judges observed the participants, rated their performance, and gave them advice to ensure that their breastfeeding practices were appropriate.

"A lot of mothers do not practise appropriate breastfeeding and have different ideas of combining breastfeeding and additional food according to the baby's age. We believe this event will encourage Thai mothers to pay more attention to their feeding practices," she added.

Despite the strict criteria, some improvements may be needed if the contest is to be run again. According to Assoc Prof Lawan, babies should be categorised in different age groups the next time around. At the recent contest, all the children were categorised in the same group-under six months old. That was rather difficult to justify because children born just one month apart can have quite different eating habits. For example, a six-month-old baby can suckle better than a one-month-old fellow, and a baby that's already a few months old may easily get distracted from his meal by nearby noises or moving objects.

"This contest has reminded a lot of Thai mothers of breastfeeding. We found that most finalists were mothers who gave birth at hospitals that properly promoted breastfeeding before they went home. These mothers showed better breastfeeding practices than those who delivered babies at hospitals or health centres where breastfeeding was overlooked," Assoc Prof Lawan revealed.

"During the contest some mothers told us that they never realised how proud and important they felt for breastfeeding their own babies-until they saw many other mums doing the same thing." In the end, Busaba Tantipiboon, the 32-year-old mother of four-month-old Nong Pon, was named Healthy Mum 2000, and took home 100,000 baht cash for the honour. The first runner-up prize of 30,000 baht went to Supawadee Pinpet, while second runner-up Sopida Chaikornkij got 15,000 baht.

In addition, the audience voted to give the People's Mum and Baby award, along with 5,000 baht, to Siriwan Ngamleelalert. All 50 finalists received honorary certificates, breastfeeding shirts, and dairy products in recognition of their breastfeeding skills.

All the contestants and their supporters left with smiles on their faces, exchanging only congratulations and admiration. No one seemed very concerned about the awards. Perhaps their thoughts were similar to what Mrs Vipaporn said in answer to the question of what she would say to promote breastfeeding if she won. She said, "God created a pair of breasts for every woman. They're not just for our beauty's sake but also for our babies."

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