Normalizing Breastfeeding

Women are born with the ability to nourish newborn children with all the sustenance a baby needs from day one. Literally.

I’ve never given much thought to this biological phenomenon — that is, until I arrived in Samoa.

In America, if someone were to merely mention the word “breastfeeding,” the floodgates would open with opinions and ideas. The discourse around nursing in public is taboo so when a model breastfed her daughter while walking down the runway in July, there was, in my opinion, unnecessary backlash.

And did you know that with Utah and Idaho’s recent passing of bills, breastfeeding in public is now LEGAL in all 50 states?  (*Insert shocked face here*) For something that’s so natural, I cannot comprehend why there is such a stigma around it. So in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, here are my two cents on how Samoa helped me normalize breastfeeding.

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  1. When I first arrived in October, so much of this country and culture was new to me that I sometimes felt both shocked and awed.
    – Having ramen noodles as a staple for breakfast? Shocking.
    – The ephemeral shimmering of sunlight as it hits the ocean to create what seems to be 50 shades of blue?
    Awing.
    – The lack of light pollution allowing the stars to shine so brightly that I felt I could reach out and pick them while the Milky Way etches its’ way across the sky.
    Shocking and awing.
    – Seeing a woman breastfeeding an infant in the midst of church bingo.
    Shocking.
    – Noticing a fellow teacher breastfeed in the middle of teaching a class.
    Shocking.
    – Witnessing a woman breastfeeding a toddler while on the bus. Extra shocking.
    – Catching a woman squirt her breastmilk into her child’s eyes*. Speechless.
  2. Obviously, I had never seen women so open to nursing their children in public so I couldn’t help but stare in every case.But as time passed, I noticed that I would not bat an eye (or stare…as much…) when I would be talking to a woman and she would start to nurse her child. This just goes to show that the more frequent an occurrence happens, the less sensitized you are to it — I’m the perfect example here in Samoa!I don’t know the reasons why, and I don’t want to speak on behalf of a culture that I’m still learning about, but it’s possible that since breastfeeding here is rooted in tradition, there’s no shame in doing what needs to be done to provide for their child. Another thought is why are Americans so squeamish around breasts? Breasts are not a sexual organ, but are oftentimes equated with sex. So it’s also possible that while the culture here in Samoa is very religious, there is no tendency to sexualize breasts allowing women to feel safe and accepted.
  3. After researching the topic of breastfeeding in Samoa, I came across this article: “Breastfeeding in Samoa: A Study to Explore Women’s Knowledge and the Factors which Influence Infant Feeding Practices.”
    What stood out to me in was that in Samoa there has been a “notable decline in breastfeeding rates in the latter half of the 20th century alongside the introduction of western diets, progressive urbanization, and migration of families to urban areas with more work available for women.” I’ve had many discussions with other PCVs and community members in regards to the globalization that is occurring in Samoa. The ease of access to goods and trade with other countries is both praised and criticized.I was intrigued by the statistical analysis of their data and how the researchers noted that there was evidence suggesting many women had received encouragement to breastfeed from their doctors and healthcare professionals. I also found it promising that the Ministry of Health was generating awareness of World Breastfeeding Week through various outlets, possibly in response to this study’s recommendations.

 

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Teuila, a teacher at Sarah‘s school, nurses her child in her classroom.

Here’s to hoping I see more momentum —similar to the government-backed mass breastfeeding initiative in the Philippines— to destigmatize nursing back home in America and that instead of openly gawking (like I did initially) and criticizing women who are breastfeeding, we applaud them for creating a healthy foundation for their child.

*Oh, and come to find out, the reason why I saw the woman squirt her breastmilk into her infant’s eyes is that breastmilk is used in various home remedies because of its’ high antibody, anti-infective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. The more you know. 

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