Courtesy of Wendy Sunderland
There’s no question about it: Breast-feeding is hard. And we aren’t born knowing to do it.
As we reported a few weeks ago, women all around the world have problems when they first start breast-feeding. From midtown Manhattan to northern Namibia, they need help to learn how to do it.
We invited our readers and listeners to tell us how their culture helps moms become breast-feeding pros. The stories we received are so wonderful, we couldn’t wait to share them. We even heard from a few dads!
Turns out, many cultures have come up with ways to ensure that new moms feel supported, loved and able to overcome any problems they have while learning to breast-feed. In many places, moms aren’t left on their own as they often are in the States. Instead, a whole village grows up around them and their new baby.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
In the Philippines: Soup And Comfort
I just finished a year of breast-feeding. In my culture, mothers and sisters are a huge help after you bring a newborn home. Your mother makes you a huge pot of a Filipino chicken soup filled with maringa leaves and green papaya. This soup is supposed to help increase your milk supply, but just having your mother’s home cooking is an extreme comfort when recovering from childbirth — and trying to figure out breast-feeding.
Rearing a child really does take a village!
-Gemma Markham, who now lives in California
In India: Off To Mom’s House
A pregnant woman usually goes to her mom’s house during the seventh month of pregnancy, so she can relax mentally and physically. Her husband visits during weekends.
After giving birth, the new mom stays with her own mom for about six months. This period is crucial for the health of the new mom and her baby. Even working moms have this privilege because they receive six months of paid maternity leave.
I am on maternity leave now, and I don’t have to worry about anything because of my mom’s help. She wakes me up to feed the baby and changes my diet if my milk supply drops. She teaches me how to breast-feed and helps with the baby — bathes him, changes nappies. The only thing I do is feed the baby.
-Thejeswini Mahalakshimi, from the state of Tamilnadu
In Denmark: Communal Dining
Our two middle children were born in Denmark. And the support there was simply wonderful on so many levels.
In the hospital, the new mothers share rooms for socializing, support and trouble shooting — especially breast-feeding problems. Moms eat in a communal setting at a family table with bassinets by their side. Or they breast-feed during the meals.
Conversations are lively and invaluable. I felt empowered! I left the hospital with new friends and feeling ready to “do this thing”!
Now compare that experience to the one I had in the U.S., where I birthed my first child. I was discharged from the hospital 24 hours after delivery with nothing but a diaper bag of freebies and my support network of family overseas. I felt alone, unsure and pressured to succeed.
Women need each other for guidance and to come alongside each other during this blessed, yet hard, job of motherhood. We need to stop isolating our new moms in private labor suites if at all possible but instead eat together, talk it out, cry it out and “do life” together.
Breast-feeding is nature and nurture. We owe it to each other to share what we know!
-Natascha Georgeff, who now lives in Des Moines, Iowa
In Nepal: No Chores!
Traditionally, the grandma stays with the new mom for one to three months in Nepal. The new mom is not allowed to do any kind of household work chores during this time.
-Yogesh Adhikari, who now lives in Rochester, New York
In Nigeria: Mentors Galore
My wife delivered our first child — a baby boy — three months ago. Help with breast-feeding began right away in the hospital. Most of the nurses and midwives around the hospital are mothers with vast experience. They are the ones to guide the inexperienced mother on how to properly breast-feed her new baby.
The learning process is mostly informal. Nurses offer advice when they see a mom struggling. In most hospitals, the nurses bathe the baby every morning and evening and show the moms how to do it.
Women are often discharged from the hospital within three days of delivery [like in the U.S.]. Then the second phase of learning starts at home.
Among the Igbos of Nigeria, which is my tribe, it’s custom for the young mothers to have their own moms come and spend at least three months with them. During this period, the learning process continues. The grandma also prepares special delicacies that will help the young mother to produce more milk.
In Africa, communal living is encouraged. This means a new mother will receive a lot of visitors, including friends, relatives and even just acquaintances. All these visitors come with their own experiences and aren’t shy to share them.
In The Netherlands: The Power Of ‘Kraamzorg’
We have what’s called kraamzorg, which roughly translates to postpartum medical care. A trained health-care worker comes to a new mother’s home for the week following the birth. She gives mom and baby medical check-ups, assists with household chores, helps with breast-feeding and alerts the midwife to any problems. The midwife also visits several times during this period and helps with breast-feeding concerns. Health insurers cover all these visits, which are considered basic postnatal care.
My own personal experience as a new mother in the Netherlands was incredibly positive, particularly with regard to breast-feeding. I am now studying to be a midwife, and I have seen firsthand how vital kraamzorg is to a good start for newborns and new mothers.
In Albania: A 40-Day Break
Traditionally, the new mother does not leave the house for 40 days. Usually the mother-in-law and other women on both sides of the family come and help out.
The new mom does not do any housework for 40 days. She focuses only on recovering and on feeding her baby. The other women help tremendously with latching the baby and keeping the mom’s milk supply high. They prepare nutritious food for the mom so she can produce high-quality milk.
As a new mom, you are never in doubt about what to do because the older women will always have the answers. The mom breast-feeds on demand since that’s her only job in the first few month of baby’s life.
In California: The Facebook Village
I’m ethnically Chinese, but I live in California and just gave birth to my daughter, Clara [pictured, above]. My parents have been absolutely essential in my recovery and mental health. They still come by multiple times a week to make sure I’m fed and rested — and to play with their beloved granddaughter.
In addition, I joined a breast-feeding support group on Facebook shortly before I gave birth. I didn’t think I needed it, but someone added me and I was just there. Boy, did I need it!
The first time I posted a cry for help on the group, I was literally sobbing because my baby was two days old, and my milk hadn’t come in yet. Our pediatrician wanted me to supplement with formula. My mom wanted me to supplement. My husband did, too. But the moms on the Facebook group gave me reassurance, encouragement and helped me find the strength and composure to be patient while my milk came in.
This Facebook group is a loving village of mothers who support each other. We celebrate each other’s successes, and we share the burden of our sorrows.
The challenges of breast-feeding are constantly changing. My mom, although helpful, is almost 30 years removed from the experience. So when it comes to questions in the middle of the night, I seek out this village of moms online, and they’re always there, even at 2 a.m. Because somebody is always awake.
-Wendy Sunderland and her new daughter, Clara