Here's What It's Like to Breastfeed Around the World
According to the most current study, the number of women who choose to breastfeed in the United States continues to rise, with 77 percent of new moms reporting they at least breastfed their babies for the first few months of their life, if not for a year — or years. Even with the strides Americans have made over the decades to encourage moms to use their naturally occurring milk to provide nourishment to their infants, there is still a shocking amount of stigma tied to breastfeeding. Not only is this practice one that can be difficult for both Mom and Baby to navigate, but parents also have to deal with naysayers who believe mothers should avoid breastfeeding in public (even when their little one is screaming and hungry). However, in other parts of the world, breastfeeding traditions vary widely, with some countries going above and beyond.
Though still considered a developing country, Mongolia, which is bordered by Russia and China, has worked tirelessly to encourage early adoption of breastfeeding. There, 65 percent of women breastfeed exclusively for six months, with some continuing the practice up until their child is around the age of 2. This number may be attributed to the public attitude toward breastfeeding: Feeding a baby in public is celebrated rather than frowned upon.
One Canadian mother even wrote about her experience on IncultureParent, explaining how strangers would smile and express their approval when she was breastfeeding while visiting. Not only did taxi drivers give her a thumbs up, local grandmothers congratulated her.
Mongolians embrace public breastfeeding. In one mom’s account of her experience living in Mongolia, she shares how strangers would praise her public breastfeeding efforts. It’s also not unheard of for women to share their breast milk with more than their children. In fact, many adults claim to enjoy the flavor and texture and might even have a glass with their breakfast. In some poor neighborhoods, breast milk can be traded for necessities like bread and eggs.
Today, Brazil’s infant mortality rate is around 16 deaths per 1,000, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1985 it was super-high, at 63.2 per 1,000, and in 1990, 58 per 1,000. This vast improvement is often attributed to public awareness campaigns and marketing efforts that promoted the benefits of breastfeeding. If you visit Brazil today, you’ll likely see women breastfeeding their babies and children nearly everywhere without any fear or hesitation.
And though formula-feeding moms should never feel shame for their decision (or for having no other option if they couldn’t breastfeed), Brazil banned advertisements that promote formula feeding. And if businesses are rude to women trying to feed their children, they’ll face fines.
All this work has made Brazil a leader in the world market for very open, welcoming, inclusive views of breastfeeding. There are only 292 human milk banks in the world — and Brazil runs and operates 220 of them. Called The Brazilian Network of Human Milk Banks, women can donate their unused breast milk to help hungry orphans, the poor or those who can’t produce milk, feeding millions of babies across their homeland.
It was only last year that Japan reported more than 50 percent of women in their country breastfeed exclusively for the first three months of their child’s life. This is the highest that percentage has been since 1985 and is widely due to education and the nation’s work to spread awareness.
As a place where tradition reigns supreme, there are many ideologies and viewpoints surrounding the practice of breastfeeding. One of these rituals is the act of a breast massage technique developed by a midwife named Sotomi Oketani as a way to ease into milk production. But it wasn’t just about getting the party started, but ending it too, as Oketani also suggested women transform their breasts to be off-putting to their babies. How so? By painting odd faces or colorful shapes to scare their children. The idea is that once your kiddo is confused, you can explain you no longer have milk, and instead, encourage them to eat their formula or solid foods, depending on their age.
According to La Leche League International, a nonprofit advocacy group that aims to raise awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding, the introduction of bottles in the 1970s changed the Italian culture dramatically. Though as a practice, breastfeeding isn’t shunned in Italy (the Catholic church even promotes it), only 19 percent of women continue to breastfeed past 4 to 6 months even though 85 percent breastfeed at birth.
Even at hospitals, pacifiers, formula and glucose are encouraged right from the get-go. How come? The verdict might still be out, but according to a recent study out of Makerere Medical School in Uganda, it is estimated that both age and employment status contribute to breastfeeding. Those women who must return to work turn to bottles, while those who are unemployed might not be able to afford formula. For those new mamas who do decide to breastfeed, it’s widely accepted to breastfeed anywhere — public transportation, gardens, restaurants — even if they don’t continue to feed for extended months.
In 2013, WHO introduced the Regulation of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes, encouraging countries to join together to regulate commercials, advertisement and other media that promoted formula- or bottle-feeding. One of the first countries to sign on the dotted line? Peru! In this South American country, breastfeeding rates are super-high: 97 percent breastfeed at birth, 69 percent breastfeed up to 5 months and of those mothers, 95 percent breastfeed around 20 months. Publicly feeding children is a no-brainer, as it’s common to see exposed breast nearly everywhere without anyone giving a second glance.