Last week, we took a look at what maternity is like around the world. Today, we’re taking that a step further and talking about breastfeeding habits in particular.
Scroll below to learn about how breastfeeding is viewed around the world.
The United States
While most women in the United States know that breastfeeding is nutritious for their babies, exclusive breastfeeding is not always possible. For one, the country does not have a law that outright covers parental leave. As a result, parental leave is largely left in the hands of individual employers and many companies offer no leave package.
Many mothers must choose between staying at home and returning to work, which limits their options. Babies in the United States, as well as other high-income countries who are less likely to have been breastfed, disproportionally come from poor households and disadvantaged backgrounds.
Limited maternity leave makes a breastfeeding goal difficult for moms to achieve unless they rely on the antiquated technology of breast pumps. Breast pumping is exhausting, time-consuming, and stressful. That’s why we decided to build a product that makes breast pumping more efficient to help more moms reach their breastfeeding goals.
Due to the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated one million people, many nursing mothers of today don’t have the amount of older female relatives who they’d normally rely on for help caring for their babies.
Compared to other African countries, Rwanda has a high rate of breastfeeding. Around 87% of women choose toe exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months. The government and health officials also encourage breastfeeding, which might contribute to this upward trend.
According to an article on Mothering, who interviewed an experienced midwife working with mothers in Rwanda, there are some myths surrounding breastfeeding. Some grandmothers believe that new moms do not have milk for the baby’s first three days of life, and bring formula for the babies to take.
Many moms also swaddle their newborns in thick layers of clothing, which makes the babies hot and also prevents the skin-to-skin contact needed to enhance milk flow from mother to child. The intention is good—to protect the baby’s sensitive skin from the harsh sun—but it may also result in decreased bonding between mother and baby.
The United Kingdom
For a relatively wealthy and educated country, the United Kingdom is lacking when it comes to breastfeeding. According to a study from 2016, only 0.5% of women continue to breastfeed their babies at one year of age.
In comparison, the number of American women who nurse their baby for the first year of life is around 30%. Despite recommendations from health professionals, that 0.5 percent continues to decrease.
While the reasons for this are not concrete, there are a few theories, including a lack of support, the belief among mothers that breastfeeding is more beneficial for those in poorer countries, and false advertising of infant formulas among companies.
Up until the 1970s, breastfeeding was very normal and accepted in China. Today, the breastfeeding rate among Chinese mothers is considerably low.
Similar to what is being reported in the U.K., low rates breastfeeding rates are attributed to aggressive marketing from formula companies. In fact, CNN reports that China has the largest market of breast-milk substitutes in the world. Therefore, formula feeding is very much engrained in Chinese culture.
Some Chinese mothers honor Zuo Yue Zi (‘the confinement month’) in which they remain at home resting for 30 days after giving birth. This Chinese and Cantonese cultural tradition is controversial, but ultimately rooted in the idea that childbirth brings a significant amount of blood loss and in Chinese medicine, blood carries chi, your “life force.”
Women following a strict interpretation of Zuo Yue Zi are not to wash their hair, shower, brush their teeth, use air conditioner or leave their homes for any reason. Those with looser guidelines might find that their breastfeeding attempts are more successful, thanks to more time at home with their babies to bond.
Brazil has done a lot in recent years to make it easier for moms to breastfeed. Now, more than half of Brazilian mothers breastfeed their babies until they are at least six months.
The government has played a large role in how breastfeeding is viewed among Brazilian families. In 1981 they created the National Breastfeeding Program (PNBF) that regulates the advertising of formula, and seeks to support working mothers. Then, in 2015, the government actually banned infant formula advertising altogether.
One thing that is unique to Brazil is the county’s extensive network of maternal milk banks. Of the nearly 300 milk banks around the world, Brazil has 220 of them. Brazilian women donate milk to these banks regularly, as there is a general trend to go back to more natural forms of child rearing.
Iraq has a bit of a complicated history with breastfeeding, partly because there have been significant periods of war and conflict affecting all citizens, including nursing mothers. For this reason, breastfeeding rates are still low.
About twenty years ago, the country distributed free infant formula as part of food rations; however, this wasn’t sustainable because the areas most affected by the war, were left with unsafe drinking water.
Another factor to consider is religion. As Iraq is a very Muslim country, there are religious laws around breastfeeding, as interpreted from the Qur'an. This states that mothers should breastfeed their children until two years of age; if both parents agree, a mother can wean off earlier and a wet-nurse may take over.
As we learned from last week’s blog post on parental leave around the world, employees in Norway are granted a general parental leave package. This gives mothers the freedom to focus on breastfeeding, and ample time to do so, rather than them having to choose between breastfeeding and their jobs.
Only 1% of babies in Norway have never breastfed. Similar to Brazil, Norway is home to several milk banks. However, what sets Norway’s milk banks apart is their choice to not pasteurize the breast milk.
The main reason why these banks can operate under stricter screening processes is because the general need for donor milk is low (since most mothers breastfeed). Plus, mothers who donate milk are compensated well.
Breastfeeding is very normalized in Mongolia, with mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infants until six months (and extended breastfeeding into toddlerhood). It’s not all uncommon for mothers to breastfeed their children even into their preschool years.
According to some mothers who have shared their experiences, they’ve not been shamed in public—something still common in many other parts of the world—but instead, are praised and encouraged for their effort.
The lack of stigma around breastfeeding extends to breast milk as well. Many Mongolians enjoy the taste of it and some mothers will leave a cup of breastmilk out for their partners. Mothering even notes that breastmilk has been used to barter for food and other supplies bringing new meaning to the phrase “liquid gold.”