New bus and MRT interchanges to have nursing rooms, more schools to have lactation rooms

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SINGAPORE — More schools will have lactation rooms while all new bus and MRT interchanges will have nursing rooms installed.

The measures were revealed in Parliament on Thursday (26 March) in response to a question from Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament Louis Ng.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling told the House that some 85 per cent of primary schools, 65 per cent of secondary schools, 90 per cent of junior colleges and one centralised institute have a lactation room. All institutes of higher learning are already equipped with lactation rooms, with bigger campuses having more than one.

Over the next three years, the remaining schools without such facilities will have a lactation room for mothers to breastfeed or express their milk.

Low was replying to a question posed by Ng who asked if the education ministry could make it compulsory for all schools and educational institutions to have at least one lactation room.

“As a mother of two kids...I can understand what it takes to persevere in the breastfeeding journey. for example the breastfeeding cycle and also the schedule from expressing and storing the milk...and transporting the milk and also all the gadgets that are involved especially for mothers who need to express milk in their office workplace.

“I want to assure that the MOE (Ministry of Education) has made it a priority to equip our teachers who are mothers and are breastfeeding with the facility and support that they need.”

Lactation rooms have been added to building specifications for primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges in recent years.

Low emphasised that the rooms were specifically for lactation and that mothers will be provided with refrigerators, if not in these rooms, then in the staff lounges of schools.

On an earlier sitting on Wednesday, Ng also asked if breastfeeding was prohibited in public, to which Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development Sun Xueling replied that there was no such prohibition.

While indecent exposure and appearing nude in public were criminal offences, mothers who genuinely breastfeed their children in public are unlikely to fall under these categories, said Sun. To determine if any offences might be made out, the police would need to ascertain the specific facts and circumstances of each case, she added.

Ng followed up on the same question on Thursday’s sitting, this time focusing on public transport. In reply, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng said that breastfeeding was allowed on public buses and trains and that those who prefer privacy can turn to nursing rooms at key transport nodes.

Ng then pointed out that a reply under the SMRT’s frequently asked questions section on its website stated that for the comfort of passengers, children are best breastfed before entering the stations.

Baey replied that the authorities would advise public transport operators to be clearer on their websites so that mothers are not deterred.

Nursing rooms in new bus interchanges, MRT stations

In a written reply on Thursday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the government would provide nursing rooms at all new bus interchanges and integrated transport hubs, and new MRT interchange stations.

The answer was in reply to Ng’s question on how many MRT stations and bus interchanges in Singapore are equipped with at least one lactation room and one breastfeeding room, and if the transport ministry could make it compulsory for at least one of each to be made available at such facilities. 

Khaw said that there were nursing rooms at half of the bus interchanges currently.

Not all MRT stations and bus interchanges needed nursing rooms as many are adjacent to major developments with nursing rooms, such as shopping centres and libraries, according to Khaw.

"This is a balanced approach, to avoid duplication while meeting the needs of nursing mothers," he added. 

As to Ng’s proposal that all all pre-schools be equipped with at least one lactation room, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in a written reply that the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) does not require all pre-schools to have a lactation room within their premises.

"Pre-schools have the flexibility to manage the use of their space, depending on the needs of their children, staff and parents. 

"For pre-schools with older children (for example kindergartens) and pre-schools with more working mothers, the need for a lactation room within the centre itself may be less pressing,” Lee said.

He encouraged pre-schools to consider setting up a lactation room or making space arrangements for breastfeeding when the need arises.

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