Adventures In Breastfeeding Around The World

Breastfeeding around the World

The scene usually starts like this: he and I walk into a room and heads turn. Some look away; others look us straight in the eyes, so surprised they do not realize they are staring; few smile and offer a supportive exchange of energy. Young women often criticize us without words, and men look uncomfortable most of the time. Young children stretch their arms to us and older ones get curious and ask, “What are you doing?”

Yes, I nurse a toddler in public everyday. I have done it almost everywhere and it’s nothing less than an adventure.

I remember before I was a mother, traveling among the nomad tribes and feeling so moved by the simple and beautiful way most mothers, especially in Africa, carry their babies sucking on their breast. It was so magical to me, such a perfect image of nature and her laws. So much of it was nothing but a mystery to me… And, now, that mystery lives within me.

These are my experiences breastfeeding around the world.

Portugal

My son was born in Portugal and although breastfeeding is advised and supported, if you do it anywhere, anytime, you will be sure to get some stares. “Is he hungry again?”, “you are just his pacifier, aren’t you?”, “do you want to cover up?”

But it is mostly a positive experience, people are more curious than critical. In most shopping malls, there are baby rooms with space for diaper changing and comfortable chairs for mothers, but otherwise, you don’t really see many women breastfeeding in public.

New York

After a few months we traveled to Hong Kong, where we live, and had a quick stop in New York. We walked through Central Park with my baby in the sling. Often he was nursing and no one could tell. My husband was very happy about how “discreet” it all was, but me? I always feel a bit sad that so many people think it is something you have to be discreet about. Especially during those postpartum times, I was so full of oxytocin, I wanted to talk, and share, and show how beautiful breastfeeding is!

My friends here often ask when I plan to stop nursing, but the Filipino helpers at the playrooms smile and tell me, “Back in the Philippines, I also nursed until my children were three years old.”

A few days later, we were back traveling. Airplanes are almost a non-stop nursing station and it feels good that here you are advised to nurse! It’s so helpful with the ear pressure discomfort at take off and landing.

bf Sofia

Hong Kong

Back in Hong Kong, I continued my breastfeeding life according to my beliefs: a natural and healthy way not only to feed my child but for deep bonding and soothing, and to allow him to feel safe and loved. I did it (and still do) literally everywhere! Yet, in Hong Kong you simply don’t see breastfeeding. I have been here for four years and apart from expats at mums’ groups and meetings, I have seen only two local mums nursing babies in public.

At first, my husband was very uncomfortable with my “free style” and would often ask me to cover up, blaming the “cultural differences” for his concern. He is Indian and has lived in Hong Kong for many years, so I have been lectured about the Asian view of body exposure and discreet nursing (even at home, if you have guests, you are expected to go to your bedroom to nurse). Sometimes, I covered the baby’s head (if it was not too hot) but with time, as he grew, it became impossible because he would be the one to move the cloth away. At the same time, my confidence grew.

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Now that he is almost three, people often stare and very rarely do I get a smile back. Here people hide their emotions a lot and you can do pretty much anything before people look away from their phones. Still, people look at me with surprise and sometimes horror. At the pediatrician’s office, I was offered a specific room to breastfeed (together with a frown) with fancy sofas and curtains. Some of the malls have the most amazingly designed nursing rooms, but at a hotel, I was given a pretty shawl to cover myself–which I politely refused. The law here is that you cannot be asked to move or to cover up. Breastfeeding is allowed anywhere, anytime.

My friends here often ask when I plan to stop nursing, but the Filipino helpers at the playrooms smile and tell me, “Back in the Philippines, I also nursed until my children were three years old.”

India

When my son was around six months old, we went to India with him for the first time. Even before the trip, just the idea of having to feed my baby covered at all times made me nervous. I knew that my baby was not the kind of baby who could wait for a specific nursing time or place, and I also knew that I was not that kind of mum to demand it. We stayed at my in-laws’ place in Indore, and it was both frustrating and a little bit embarrassing for me that I had to go to my room or hide in a car to be able to nurse my baby. Even when I was at home alone with other women, I was asked to cover up. So, I just preferred to leave the room.

I remember before I was a mother, traveling among the nomad tribes and feeling so moved by the simple and beautiful way most mothers, especially in Africa, carry their babies sucking on their breast.

During this same trip, I went to Pondicherry to visit some French friends, and although I felt the need to cover myself a little bit in public areas, I felt free to nurse in front of them. And this is where my baby’s nursing scooter naps started! I am not advising anyone to take their young babies or children on motorbikes and I am aware of the dangers but “when in Rome!”

Since this first trip, we have visited India several times and now that my son is a toddler, it’s impossible to cover him up or negotiate timing. The way I see it, this blaming of the female body is responsible for early weaning and the use of artificial milk. Women have only two options: to stay at home all day or to stop nursing.

Singapore

Singapore was similar to Hong Kong. Few women nursed in public, the baby rooms are creatively designed and I got some stares. But there was still a much more relaxed feel.

Dubai

During one of our trips, we stayed in the Dubai airport for two days. Even there, I felt the pressure, the judgment, and the weight of the law. In Dubai, breastfeeding in public is not allowed. When we were waiting for our flight and siting in front of the gate, my son asked for milk and just a few seconds later, two officers approached. My son had stopped by then but I felt like they were checking on me. I didn’t understand why until a female airline staff member explained that I was not allowed to nurse there.

This was the first time in my life that I had to nurse my child in the bathroom. The huge airport had only one baby room/nursing area and we just stayed in that area–just in case I needed to hide. The feeling of not being allowed to do something this natural iwas horrible. I felt afraid and ashamed.

Bali

Last year we went to Bali for few days and it was lovely to see how Balinese people are so gentle with children. We got smiles everywhere we went, especially from the older generation. We even sat by a nursing mother monkey and her baby. It was quite a show! I did not feel the need to cover up but was once gently asked to move from the temple area to breastfeed.

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Thailand

Oh the Land of the Smiles! I breastfed my son everywhere (scooter rides included) and got nothing but smiles, even from men. I never felt criticized and more than that, I did not feel like it was a strange sight for locals. I was even offered a pillow at a restaurant to feel more comfortable. While visiting the Muslim islands, I received smiles from the old ladies.

Yes, I nurse a toddler in public everyday. I have done it almost everywhere and it’s nothing less than an adventure. We are going back to India later this month to attend weddings. While my son and I are a team of professional “human breast milk for human babies” advocates, I’m already wondering: how’s it going to be?

About Joana Fartaria

Joana FartariaJoana is a writer, a traveler, a mother. She used to be an actress and is ready to become a Goddess. Born in Portugal, living in Hong Kong she is a healer, a spiritual seeker. She travels. Around the world, deep inside – she always travels. She writes about everything and nothing. She writes about truth, love and everything within. About awakenings, revelations and about life. Writing is like a spell, a medicine, a spiritual practice, a grounding Sadhana.

One thought on “Adventures In Breastfeeding Around The World

  1. Avatar
    Kate Green
    July 1, 2016
    Reply

    Neat to hear about worldwide nursing and I have nursed my own five children on 3 continents and multiple countries. I had a baby in Abu Dhabi and lived there and traveled often to Dubai. Breastfeeding IS supported and encouraged everywhere in the UAE. The Koran states babies should be nursed for 2 years at least and most of the hospitals are Baby Friendly. Even back in 2000 I set up a breastfeeding/pumping room at a major women’s university and did lots of ongoing breastfeeding research on Emirati women and children. The entire country supports nursing so please do not write that it is illegal — in fact they have gone the opposite and made it illegal NOT to breastfeed (a whole other discussion:)

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