Breastfeeding as a culture - it starts with you

I shared this link on my wall a couple of weeks ago and have thought about it constantly (as I tend to do sometimes), so I thought I’d write about what I’m feeling just to get it off my chest. For those who are TL;DR, basically the article is about one lady’s experience being an expat in Mongolia, and how the openness and matter-of-fact culture of breastfeeding there, shaped her own breastfeeding experience. The Mongolians breastfeed anytime, anywhere, for however long the child wants to breastfeed. They believe that breastmilk makes for better wrestlers…which really isn’t that far from the truth, since breastmilk does make for “stronger” children ;)

The article touched me in a way because it made me realize that not everyone will have had the opportunity to grow up witnessing the beauty and normalcy of breastfeeding. There are people who still see formula feeding as a default method of feeding their children, simply because breastfeeding is not the norm to them or their family culture.

I grew up watching my aunts and older cousins breastfeed. It is a common thing for there to be a “breastfeeding circle” when we have family gatherings. One memory comes to mind from when I was just a teenager – I was talking about nipple piercings (no, I don’t have one, I was just talking about piercings in general and somehow ended up on that), and the first thing my female relatives exclaimed was, “Imagine having so many holes in your nipple – milk would be flying everywhere!” *LOL* I still giggle at that! But it just illustrates the prevalence of breastfeeding in our family.

As with the Mongolians, my breastfeeding family members all breastfeed anytime, anywhere. There’s no question about it. Recently, at a cousin’s wedding solemnization ceremony, we ended up having a “breastfeeding line” where there were three mothers (myself, and two of my cousins), breastfeeding our babies, one behind the other.  And though we have mastered the art of discreet breastfeeding when the occasion calls for it (such as when male relatives are present), most of the time we breastfeed openly, bare breasts and all. Our aunts and uncles are all also incredibly supportive and enthusiastic about breastfeeding. A child starts crying? Oh, it needs a breast. Notice I said A breast, not necessarily their mom’s breast ;) So far we haven’t had any milk siblings in our generation (that I know of), because most of the breastfeeding mothers in our family are also WAHM/SAHM, but I would not hesitate for one second to breastfeed my little nieces or nephews if it is needed.

My family also practices extended breastfeeding. Now, one thing about my family, regardless of our socio-economic status (my mother had 11 siblings, so the income range in our family is pretty vast), my relatives and I are well-read. We know that breastfeeding till age 2 is normal, healthy and recommended. And we know that breastfeeding past that age does not involve “poisonous milk”, “over-coddling” or “holding back” our children. Like the Mongolians, we believe that milk makes for stronger and smarter children. I have cousins who were breastfed till they were 6, and who are now happily breastfeeding their pre-schoolers. Tandem nursing is also the norm in our family – we currently have two mamas tandem nursing our children.

Where am I going with this? It is simple really – children who are breastfed, will likely breastfed (I can't seem to find the source for this but I could've sworn I read it somewhere...if you have it, please share). But, more importantly, children who witness breastfeeding, will likely see it as a normal thing to do when they have children, and will likely breastfeed too, even though they were not breastfed themselves (this was the case with me). That is why I believe all mothers should make the effort to portray breastfeeding as a normal, everyday thing for the children around them. Don’t use a nursing cover in your own home (I wouldn’t use it outside even, although I completely understand if a mother feels more comfortable using it when nursing in public. Want to know more about nursing discreetly in public? Check out this link). Don’t go to another room to breastfeed. Breastfeed your child in full view of the children and family members around you. Rope in other mothers to breastfeed, just by supporting them in their breastfeeding journey. Make breastfeeding normal in your family, and eventually it will be normal in your community, your town, your country and hopefully, eventually, the world.

I hope I’m doing my part for the generation after me – my 5-year-old cousin frequently offers to breastfeed everyone, and confidently nurses her dolls in public ;)