As parents, we tend to have a lot of opinions about what is “right” and what is “wrong” when it comes to many aspects of raising children.
Breastfeeding is one of the most hotly debated topics across the globe. While in some nations “extended breastfeeding” is providing a baby with breastmilk beyond the first six months, for other countries breastfeeding well into toddler-hood and preschool age is the norm.
Today we’re going to celebrate the many differences in cultures and their take on breastfeeding. Let’s start with the leading breastfeeding nation in the developing world: Mongolia.
Mongolia tops the list as being the developing nation with the most breastfeeding initiatives, exclusively breastfeeding until the child is six months of age, and breastfeeding their young ones into the preschool years. Mongolian mums and their little ones receive a lot of support from not only families but their community.
Unlike many other nations, Mongolians value the nutritional value of breastmilk highly. It’s not uncommon for it to be shared freely beyond families, with it sometimes being used for trade and barter.
United Arab Emirates
Recognising the importance of breastfeeding, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made it a law in 2014 for mothers to breastfeed their babies until the age of two. Despite the law’s good intentions, it was met with a lot of push back from mothers who feared they might have difficulty feeding or who believed husbands might sue them for not nursing their little ones.
Before the 1970s breastfeeding was typical in China. The aggressive push for formula within the nation’s borders has now made the country home of the largest market of formula and other breastmilk substitutes in the world.
Formula has become a large part of the feeding and child-rearing culture in China. But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is unheard of.
Despite declining feeding rates, many mums follow the practice of Zuo Yue Zi, or the “sitting month” where they are confined to the home to bond and breastfeed their babies. Mums who follow this practice have the quiet time needed to establish breastfeeding with their babies and are often supported by other caretakers like their mothers, sisters, and aunts.
Of the developed nations, the United Kingdom comes in last when it comes to breastfeeding. One Lancet report showed that a mere 0.5 per cent of mums continued to breastfeed their babies at the age of one (this is in comparison to 28 per cent of Aussie mums who breastfeed until their bubs’ first birthday.
Lack of support and miseducation about breastfeeding are largely to blame. Then there is also the misconception that breastfeeding is only for “poor mums” as well as the pressure women feel to get their babies on a regular schedule so that they can return to work.
Breastfeeding has been heralded as one of the reasons why Brazil’s infant mortality rate has declined more than two-thirds over the past twenty years. The government and health organisations have implemented massive widespread campaigns supporting breastfeeding, which is one of the reasons why more than half of Brazilian mothers continue to feed their babies until they are at least half a year old.
Another reason why Brazilian mums may be choosing the “boob over the bottle” is that the country outright banned all infant formula advertising in 2015. Businesses also face substantial fines if they are found guilty of discriminating against breastfeeding mums.
Iraq has a complex relationship with breastfeeding. Intense conflict and war can make access to clean water and infant formula difficult for lengthy periods. Then there are religious laws from the Qur’an which further complicates matters.
According to the Qur’an, infants are to be breastfed until the age of two. If both parents agree, however, the baby may be weaned sooner, or the baby could be fed by a wet-nurse.
Republic of Congo
Residing within this central-African nation is a nomadic pygmy tribe called “Aka”. This tribe of 20,000 people values gender equality, so mothers and fathers take equal part in the rearing of their children.
Children are with one or the other parent at all times, and babies are held 100 per cent of the time until they reach the age of one. Fathers bond so closely with their babies that they will even “breastfeed” their babies as a form of comfort.
Here in Australia, breastfeeding rates vary widely. One study showed that university-educated mums were more twice as likely to feed for a child’s first six months than those without a university education, showing that socioeconomic status could play a role in breastfeeding habits.
Another interesting finding from the study was that Aussie mums were far more likely to breastfeed their youngest child for a shorter period than earlier children. Researchers suspect this may be due to increased financial pressures with mums needing to return to the workforce sooner and wean prematurely.
Despite cultural differences, one thing is for certain – our goal as parents is to do what is best for our babies and for our health. Whether formula feeding, breastfeeding, or both, Peachymama is proud to support mums of all cultures, needs, and lifestyles as we all continue along our unique parenting journey.
Photo by: petalandvinephotography.com