July 10, 2012

Breastfeeding in different countries and cultures

Breastfeeding in different countries and cultures

Even in the UK you'll find vastly differing opinions on breastfeeding. You might think it’s fine to breastfeed wherever you are, or you might feel squeamish about doing it at all. If you're having problems with breastfeeding, you might prefer to do it in private, where you can relax without worrying about the people around you. If you're travelling, you have more to consider - different cultures view breastfeeding and public intimacy very differently.

The Middle East
A recent study conducted amongst Lebanese women discovered that many of them were discouraged from breastfeeding because they were afraid of hurting their babies. Some believed their milk was "bad", or that they could pass their own aches, pains, illnesses and medications to their baby via the milk. Coupled with the belief, passed on from family members, that you'll struggle to breastfeed if your mother and sisters did, this resulted in a lack of breastfeeding amongst Lebanese women, which is now being corrected by a campaign that educates women about the crucial health benefits of breastfeeding, but you're still unlikely to see many women breastfeeding in public here.

If you're travelling anywhere in the Middle East while breastfeeding, you'll need to check what's acceptable locally. Public breastfeeding is prohibited in Saudi Arabia In most places it isn't illegal to breastfeed in public but it is better to do it discreetly, tucked round a corner with a loose cover-up, shawl, or baggy shirt that lifts up from the bottom. This probably isn't the ideal time to practise breastfeeding, though, so make sure you get the hang of it at home, before you head out.

In most African countries, breastfeeding is seen as absolute natural and the right way to feed your baby. Although gratuitous exposure of the body is usually frowned upon in Ghana, for example, Ghanaians would much rather you satisfy your baby than listen to it cry while you find somewhere private to feed it, and an exposed boob for breastfeeding purposes is absolutely fine. Ghanaian, Kenyan, Nigerian, Zambian and Rwandan mums breastfeed wherever they like. You may choose to wear a loose cover-up, just to avoid feeling self-conscious.

Attitudes here are much the same as Africa, with breastfeeding seen as a natural necessity and no real problem with public breastfeeding; although some new mums feel modest and prefer to use a cover-up.

It depends which country you're in - indeed, it depends which restaurant you're in - but Europeans can be quite stuffy about public breastfeeding. Even though it's generally acknowledged that breastfeeding is better for your baby, the stratification of public areas between "formal" and "informal" means that while it's okay to publicly breastfeed in the park, for example, it would be seen as odd to do so in a fancy restaurant. If you're a well-practised breast-feeder, you may able to slip your baby under your long top or shawl without anyone even noticing, but if your baby struggles to latch onto the nipple and you need to use your hands, you may prefer to find somewhere more relaxed.

Disclaimer: This is a guest post.