Breastfeeding around the world – who does it & how to do it?
Breastfeeding is the oldest and most natural way to feed a baby – yet it’s also the most controversial. Everyone seems to have a say on what women do with their breasts. There’s no problem showing cleavage, but whip it out to feed your child!? How dare you!
Many mothers choose to breastfeed for various reasons. Whether it be to try and create a bond with baby, provide baby with natural nutrients made just for them, reduce the risk of maternal ovarian & breast cancer, help with postpartum healing – oh and did we mention it’s free? Yeah mama, that is a major bonus!
It’s World Breastfeeding Week and this year we are promoting breastfeeding for a healthier planet. All mothers should have access to support and education on breastfeeding, major factors that heavily influence the chance of a mother breastfeeding and continuing breastfeeding past 6 months!
While breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your child, there are mixed feelings towards doing so in public. Whether you’re home or wanting to travel abroad, let’s take a deeper look at the laws and customs of society around the world before your baby decides they’re hungry.
In the United States, all 50 states have laws protecting mothers and their right to breastfeed. You do not have to feed covered up in any public setting, this includes restaurants and parks. Now, I can’t guarantee there won’t be a Ken or Karen who will make a snide comment. How dare you feed in front of their children/husband/pet fish….
Canada has recognized breastfeeding as a human right. Women can not be discriminated against on the basis of breastfeeding whether at work or in public. It is also illegal to ask a mother to cover up while breastfeeding! So whip them out ladies! Provided you have a hungry baby, of course. Feeding Action Coalition Canada (INFACT) is an NGO created to take over the support and protection of breastfeeding mothers and infants.
Latin America & the Carribean
Breastfeeding is legal in Mexico, but certain states do not enforce this legality. In 2019, a woman was removed from the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City because a security guard stated “there is no food or drink allowed in the museum.” Um WHAT!? I wouldn’t necessarily compare breastfeeding to sneaking in some juice. This sparked protests by breastfeeding moms who successfully brought awareness that breastfeeding is a human right.
El Salvador has a law for the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding which states that all children have “a right to breastfeed to ensure life, health, growth, & development.” The law further states mothers should have support from family, workplace, and the State – which includes access to education on breastfeeding and tips on how to successfully breastfeed.
In fact, most countries in Central America view breastfeeding as a common and ordinary activity. While women are allowed to feed in public, culturally speaking they usually cover up. This is most common in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Trinidad, & Barbados.
South America has a more accepting view on breastfeeding. Peru was the first country to pass laws to allow nursing mothers to feed in public in the 1980s. Mothers are free to nurse anywhere in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. In Colombia, mothers often cover up while feeding their child in public – especially in more urban areas of the country.
Just like most of the world, there are mixed feelings about breastfeeding. While the numbers of women breastfeeding until at least 6 months has risen in some Asian countries, it is generally frowned upon to breastfeed in public in many Asian countries.
In China, breastfeeding is not common practice. The city of Guangzhou is the first in the country to pass a law promoting breastfeeding. This law dictates public spaces such as trains and museums to have lactation rooms, includes workplace protection against discrimination against nursing mothers and bans hospitals and medical offices from taking money from, or promoting, formula companies. That’s right, doctors are making money to dissuade women from breastfeeding and choosing formula instead.
While there is nothing wrong with formula feeding babies – fed IS best for babies, medical professionals have a responsibility to educate new mothers on breastfeeding. This isn’t just an issue for China but worldwide. If you want to learn more I must recommend “The Big Letdown” by Kimberly Allers. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.
Breastfeeding in public is widely frowned upon in Korea, however there are dedicated safe spaces in public areas like shopping centers to feed your child. Singapore is another country that while not frowned upon, you will not see mothers openly breastfeeding. Japan has some of the highest numbers of breastfeeding at least part time. Hospitals encourage breastfeeding, and support is provided to the mother through lactation consultants. While it is normal, mothers do practice modesty and cover up if feeding in public.
Other Asian countries have laws protecting and promoting breastfeeding. In 2009 the Philippines passed the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act which protects nursing mothers from discrimination in the workplace, offers support from the healthcare system, lactation stations in public areas, and mothers can breastfeed in public. Taiwan passed the Public Breastfeeding Act in 2010 to safeguard a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, provide lactation rooms where reasonable, and fine establishments that go against these provisions.
Africa & the Middle East
In many African and Middle Eastern countries, breastfeeding is seen as the normal, natural thing to do. In Muslim-majority countries, Islamic law dictates a mother must breastfeed her child up to two years and is therefore a common practice.
The Quran states “Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term” (2:233).”
While breastfeeding is natural, it is not encouraged or advised to breastfeed publicly in Muslim-majority nations. While there is no law in Dubai preventing mothers from breastfeeding, the local culture promotes modesty. Due to this there are plenty of mother and baby stations in pubic places to allow mothers to breastfeed privately. You will find this is the general norm in more conservative cultures and countries such as in Libya and Egypt. While breastfeeding is seen as a non-sexual act (as breasts are exist for the sole purpose of providing food for babies) practice modesty and respect if and when traveling to these areas.
Modesty is also expected in Morocco, a simple scarf would suffice. As a tourist you do want to respect the culture you are visiting and not make yourself a target for unwanted attention. Other countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda and Rwanda women can breastfeed without hesitation. In many African cultures, if an infant is crying in public and the woman is not breastfeeding it is assumed that the infant is not hers, as a mother would usually feed a crying child to console it.
Europe has a more easygoing view regarding the human body, and breastfeeding falls under this understanding. As I am sure comes to no surprise, public breastfeeding is widely accepted in much of Europe. In France, Iceland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Poland, Portugal and the United Kingdom do not bat an eye when a woman breastfeeds publicly. While breastfeeding is acceptable and legal in the Czech Republic, there have been instances where mothers have been shamed for breastfeeding in public spaces.
Mothers around the world
Breastfeeding is the most powerful, natural, sacred, and bonding experience between a mother and her child. I am so proud to be a breastfeeding mother, and I want to take a moment to praise all the mothers who have made the choice to breastfeed. Whether close to home, or out in the world, these mamas know when baby’s hungry baby eats!
At a wonder of the world, on top of a mountain, or in a restaurant, this moms take pride in feeding their children. Take a moment to click on their names to learn more about them!
Breastfeeding is the oldest and most natural way to feed a baby, it’s no wonder women from around the world from a multitude of cultures chose to do so. Breastfeeding is fast, free, and always prepared at the right temperature for your baby. Mother’s milk is packed with all the nutrients and good stuff a baby needs to thrive and develop. Let’s support our mothers and promote breastfeeding education, support, and normalization across the globe.
If there is a breastfeeding mom in your life, you can support her by preparing a meal, offering words of encouragement, & making sure she is comfortable. Together, we can normalize breastfeeding for a healthier planet.