Breastfeeding’s Popularity Varies From Place to Place
By Teri Brown
There has been a revolution of sorts in the United States regarding breastfeeding. While misinformation and prejudice still abound, things are looking up with an increase of available lactation experts, La Leche League groups and hospitals encouraging breastfeeding. But what about other countries? The answer to that depends on which country you are talking about.
In many Western cultures, notions of timing, regularity, repetition and scheduling are deeply entrenched within notions of good mothering.
“In contrast to Western cultures where breastfeeding is practically nonexistent in the public eye, and where fully-exposed female breasts typically have sexual connotations, using breasts for feeding a baby is a common feature of everyday life in many settings in sub-Saharan Africa,” she says. “African women often come to the experience of breastfeeding with little or no doubt and trust in their ability to produce enough milk or milk of the right quantity.”
Thairu says that in many Western cultures, notions of timing, regularity, repetition and scheduling are deeply entrenched within notions of good mothering. “Scheduled and measured feeding sessions are a common feature, and limiting the baby’s demands is related to notions in Western society around civilizing babies,” she says. “In contrast, in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, baby-led feeding or feeding on demand is a common feature of good parenting.”
Gillian Marshall is a breastfeeding mother from Halifax, West Yorkshire. She says the attitude toward breastfeeding is still mixed because so many women go back to work right after childbirth. “There is the ideal and the reality,” she says. “I think the ideal is that more mums would like to be able to breastfeed for as long as possible, but the reality is that we might have allowances for people to step outside the workplace for a cigarette, but there is no such allowance for a mum wanting to breastfeed her baby.”
Marshall says there is also a divide as to how long you should breastfeed. She receives looks of horror when people find out she nurses her 2-year-old. Breastfeeding in public is also very much taboo. “I only ever saw one woman breastfeeding in public,” she says. “It isn’t readily accepted. The majority of people still don’t think it is appropriate. Some shops have specially designed rooms for mothers to go into to either change or feed their baby.”
Though Marshall believes that breasts and talking about them are very much off-topic in England, she is quick to note that things are changing. Midwifes are gaining popularity in Great Britain, and most are very pro-breastfeeding. And like other countries of the world, the attitudes in Great Britain vary from area to area.
Hazel Larkin, mother of two from Dublin, Ireland, has the unique opportunity of viewing breastfeeding as both a breastfeeding mother and a certified doula. She says that breastfeeding is rare in Ireland. “Few women bother,” she says. “I work as a doula and constantly come across women who tell me they’ll ‘try.’ That usually means they will attempt breastfeeding for a few days, decide it’s not working or they don’t have enough or it’s too disruptive or whatever, and give up.”
Larkin says it is very rare to see breastfeeding in public. “There is so little breastfeeding in public that it’s not really commented on,” she says. “I doubt anyone would frown on it, though. A few times, I have been told that I’m ‘great’ to be breastfeeding my baby. I’m amazed that it’s not just taken for granted that a woman would feed her child!”
Larkin has run across very few lactation consultants during her work as a doula and doesn’t believe that breastfeeding is encouraged much in hospitals. “There seems to be an attitude of ‘Well, give it a go, and if it doesn’t work, then we can always give the baby a bottle,’” she says.
Larkin is very vocal about the need for reform on this issue in Ireland. “There needs to be a revolution in Ireland as regards breastfeeding,” she says. “People who teach ante-natal classes need to be blunt and not so politically correct about the whole issue of breastfeeding. I think education is key. Giving it a go or trying isn’t enough. Women need to know that breastfeeding is not their best option; it’s really their only healthy option. There needs to be some aggressive campaigning on behalf of our government to help women choose. They also need support when they have difficulties breastfeeding. Every woman should have a consultation with an LC [lactation consultant] within a day of giving birth.”
Stéphanie Bujon is a breastfeeding mother of two from Montrouge, France. According to Bujon, about 50 percent of the mothers in France breastfeed their babies, but 30 percent of those mothers stop after three months.
“The problem is that, with the industrial era, a lot of moms have preferred bottle-feeding in order to get back to work easily,” she says. “Now the doctors are used to it, and they are not trained in breastfeeding. You get a lot of, ‘Your milk is too poor. You don’t have enough milk for your baby’ or ‘You should complement breastfeeding with bottles.’”
Bujon recalls going to a restaurant with a friend visiting from Scandinavia. The woman began breastfeeding her baby in the restaurant, and Bujon remembers how the atmosphere in the restaurant became very strange and quiet. “Usually, a lot of French mothers go in another room to breastfeed, as if it was something very intimate,” she says.
Support organizations like the La Leche League exist, but according to Bujon, few people know about them. “If you get a good pregnancy course, you’ll have the nice midwife who will tell you breastfeeding is nice and just a technique to get used to,” she says. “I think medical people at the hospital should be trained in breastfeeding support. In a hospital, you can get three different pieces of advice in one day!”
Though breastfeeding is again on the upswing after years of being out of favor with popular culture, attitudes still take time to change. On the positive side, they are changing, and you can be a part of that revolution by continuing to breastfeed – wherever you are.