Cultural aspects of breastfeeding

Historical, family, cultural and ethnic background shaped their breastfeeding experience for many of the women. Several talked about the bottle feeding culture of previous generations in the United Kingdom and how they hoped that their daughters would go on to breastfeed because of the example that they had set. One woman talked about the divide between the breastfeeding and bottle feeding culture (see 'Breastfeeding away from home').

Some women talked about sections of the population where bottle feeding is still the norm and how difficult it is for women from those sections to break the cycle. A few women talked about the culture surrounding weight gain, not just in babies but through all stages of life (see 'Monitoring baby's growth').

Some women from non-British backgrounds talked about breastfeeding being the norm in their family and how they wished to copy their own mother. Many women received a lot of support from their mother or mother-in-law in the days immediately after birth (see 'Going home with a breastfed baby') although for some it was not always of the right kind (see Interview 12 below). Some women followed religious guidance on breastfeeding, especially those of the Islamic faith where breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years (see 'Gathering information, making the decision and preparing for breastfeeding').

In many of these cultures where breastfeeding was the expectation, the women had not seen other women breastfeeding in public and, in a few cases, not even within the family. Many women would not breastfeed in front of male family members other than the baby's father (see 'Going home with a breastfed baby'). One woman said that, contrary to her culture, she had lost her shyness or reserve, breastfeeding wasn't private anymore, she often didn't even realise that she was exposing some of her breast and it had become normal for people, mainly health professionals, to come and have a look and see how the baby was feeding.

Some women had given birth and breastfed both overseas and in the UK and compared their different experiences. A young woman from Uganda, who came from a breastfeeding family background and had a caesarean section in the UK, said that she felt cheated out of the skin-to-skin contact that she would have experienced in her home country. A French woman was dismayed by all the advertising of infant formula in women's magazines in both France and the UK (see 'Thinking about the breastfeeding environment'). One woman talked about her experience of having a premature baby in Germany while her husband was serving in the armed forces.

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated September 2015


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