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10 Expat Moms Share Their Stories of Breastfeeding Abroad

by Jennifer Malia Nov 8, 2016

Brynn Barineau, Brynn in Brazil

“As an American expat in Brazil, I can whip it out anytime, anywhere. My Brazilian husband has strong views about breastfeeding in public, believing that it is crazy for any place to deny a child the right to eat. He’s a judge, so he always thinks in terms of ‘rights.’ I was skeptical that this was put into practice in Brazil, but he was right. I breastfed in restaurants, at the mall, on the beach, and in front of friends. No one ever said anything other than a ‘Que delicia!’ (‘How beautiful!’). I even had nurses in the NICU compliment my breasts, which shocked and embarrassed my American puritanical self. I also NEVER used a cover. Brazil gets an A++ for supporting breastfeeding in my book.”

Sarah Scanlon Murdock

“We were an American family living in Benin. When we went to a wedding in a village, I wore a discreet dress with a flap over the chest and slits in the cloth underneath so I could nurse in public. I was stared at, though, much more than I think I would have been if I had done as the locals do and just bared my chest. I think they were trying to figure out what I was hiding. As my son grew into a very chubby baby, the women in the neighborhood began to ask us what we were feeding him. He was a great advertisement for a project I was working on with a local midwife to teach moms about the importance of breastfeeding babies for the whole first year. The “campaign” was very successful, as mothers began to breastfeed longer, rather than feed their children watered-down porridge.”

Rosemary Gillan Griffith-Jones, Write. SaidRose

“When we were living as Australian expats in Singapore, my three-year-old son intently watched an American friend breastfeed her newborn in our hotel apartment. Since it was away from prying public eyes and judging stares, she simply lifted her top, opened up her maternity bra, and fed her baby. Wide-eyed, my son asked:
What are you doing?
I’m feeding my baby,’ she replied
What are you feeding it?
Ooh, chocolate milk?
Well, I ate chocolate last night, so quite possibly, yes!’”

Kristy Smith, The Midwestern Repatriate

“As an American expat in Abu Dhabi, I tried to be discreet with breastfeeding, but I didn’t over-engineer the process. I spent the majority of my time in busy coffee shops in malls, where I felt comfortable feeding my son without getting any dirty looks. These were places that were frequented by locals and expats alike. The Arab women I talked to in the UAE told me that Arab men wouldn’t stare because they understood that breastfeeding was natural. When I moved to the UK, I felt like I needed to be much more discreet. I frequently chose to feed my daughter before or after going out instead of feeding her in public.”

Lisa Ferland, Knocked Up Abroad

“We were an American family living in Sweden. My daughter was about nine months old, and I felt like a breastfeeding pro. I could do it standing up, sitting down, lying down, with a sweater on, and with a thin shirt on. I mistakenly assumed that breastfeeding was the norm in all European countries when I took a trip with my family to France. I breastfed in Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chappelle, parks, and playgrounds around Paris without realizing it is considered taboo-ish in France. I ended up on the Paris Metro during rush hour. At first, I had no seat on the packed subway car while my daughter screamed inconsolably regardless of the nursing method I tried. I eventually ended up with a seat, placed her on my lap, and let her breastfeed. I didn’t notice any stares, but my husband later told me that the teenage boy across from me had his jaw wide open, and the people around us gawked at the sight. I thought I was doing everyone a service by calming a screaming baby on a crowded train. Had it been my first child or had I been less confident in my mothering, I might have been more self-conscious or defensive about the entire situation.”

Lucille Abendanon, Expitterpattica

“I breastfed my first son in Istanbul. I was very worried about whipping my boobs out in public, but my fears were completely unfounded. I used a nursing cover, which helped me stay discreet, but in the two and half years I breastfed in Turkey, I never had any weird stares while nursing in taxis, on buses, in parks, on street benches, and in restaurants. I think my foreignness — being British, South African, and Dutch — protected me from any objections. When my second son was born in South Africa, I was even more comfortable openly breastfeeding. Although you hear disturbing stories from time to time about moms being asked to cover up, South Africa is very relaxed about breastfeeding in public.”

Olga Mecking, The European Mama

“I was a Polish expat breastfeeding my second daughter in a petting zoo in the Netherlands when a lady sat down next to me. In typically direct Dutch fashion, she said, ‘I think it’s really important that you breastfeed.’ To which I wanted to reply, ‘I think it’s really important that you keep your thoughts to yourself.’ One time, I even saw a lady breastfeeding on the go with one boob sticking out of her top. I assumed that breastfeeding was acceptable in the Netherlands and that everyone did it. Since most women go back to work after three months, it is however considered niet normaal (not normal) if breastfeeding continues beyond six months. I was advised to tape my nipples to wean off my son. As a friend of mine said, ‘They want you to breastfeed, but not too much.’”

Charlotte Edwards Zhang, Living in China with Kids

“I’m an American expat who has lived in China for the past ten years. Chinese mothers just whip out their breast and it’s on show for whomever to see. During my moon month, a tradition where Chinese women stay in the home for thirty days after the birth of their baby, my husband’s colleagues came to visit our newborn. They had little regard for my privacy. Nursing covers are nowhere to be found in China, certainly not in the more rural areas of the country where I live. With my second baby, I sewed my own cover, using the rim of a plastic lid to a can of Cadbury’s drinking chocolate for the boning, which made a nice peephole to check on my baby.”

Nicola Beach, Expatorama

“Nervous about impending motherhood in Nigeria, I listened wide-eyed as friends reeled off some of the country-specific ‘delights’ that awaited me. One tale was quite unforgettable. We’re all told that “breast is best,” but a fellow Brit had a cautionary tale that begged to differ. Despite difficulties with breastfeeding, she had doggedly persevered until one fateful morning when she woke up to find a trail of ants crawling up her boob looking for milk.”

Jennifer Malia, Munchkin Treks

“My first baby was born in Dubai, where I always used a breastfeeding cover and did my best to hide where I wouldn’t be noticed as much. I already stood out as a white American living in a Middle Eastern country and breastfeeding in public drew even more attention. While public nursing is acceptable in the United Arab Emirates, I didn’t see that many women openly breastfeeding. In Dubai, women choose whether or not to fully cover with an abaya (robe-like dress) and a hijab (headscarf), but they are expected to dress modestly, making it more difficult to nurse. I often hid in my Dodge Nitro with tinted windows to breastfeed my baby. If I were lucky, I would come across a luxury mother’s room at the mall. I would pretend to be interested in the Coach purses in the fashion avenue section of the Dubai Mall, but I really went there to feed my baby while relaxing in a leather armchair in a semi-private room.”

Some of the expat moms featured here also share their memories of being pregnant in foreign countries in “6 expat moms share their funniest memories of being knocked up abroad”.

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