Breastfeeding and the Expat

This month, my blog post for Expat Focus reflected on how I found my experiences of living in Jamaica when I was pregnant with my first daughter affected the decisions I made around breastfeeding.

It can be a controversial subject in this country – having been an antenatal teacher for the past few years I am well aware of some of the sensititivites of this topic. But an early task when I started my training with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) was to carry out a reflection on our “feeding experiences” and I realised then how influenced we are by the environment we find ourselves in when pregnant and/or we have a newborn.

As expats, we may be pregnant in a country with a birth culture totally different to our own. In some countries, highly medicalised birth is the norm, and cesearean rates are high. In other places, home births are encouraged and postnatal care is prioritised. During our first pregnancies in particular, when we are often more vulnerable than in subsequent pregnancies, we may go along with something that perhaps doesn’t feel right with us simply because that is what everyone else seems to be doing. Or conversely, we may be introduced to new ideas or new ways of doing something because that is what the local maternity services offer.

You can read my full post here but in the meantime I would love to hear how others have been affected by the country they found themselves pregant in when it came to giving birth or to feeding. Do you think it made you do anything differently? Did you regret any decisions you made? Or was it a positive difference? Let me know, I’m always interested in a good birth story 😉

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12 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and the Expat

  1. I had my first baby in Brunei nearly seven months ago. It’s a Muslim country and, although there is no dress code, it’s quite conservative here. Initially I was concerned about breastfeeding in public, but I had seen other mothers doing it and actually it’s encouraged here strongly – the hospital do not keep formula and discourage you from taking it in. I had a complicated birth so by the time I was discharged from hospital I was very used to people seeing me breastfeed as the nurses and doctors were in and out all the time while I was feeding and had to help me feed at first. I always cover up with a feeding cover – out of respect and also to stop my son from getting distracted from feeding while we’re out – but I have always felt comfortable doing it in public. It’s very baby friendly here. When we visited the UK I continued to feed with my cover in restaurants and had no problems, but didn’t see many other people doing it.

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    • That’s so interesting Liz. I had heard that about Muslim countries and breastfeeding. I had stopped breastfeeding my daughter by the time we moved to Pakistan, although knowing what I do now about the flight over (we got stranded in Dubai for the day) I should have carried on. At least if anything happens you always have milk for the baby when you’re feeding her yourself!

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  2. I gave birth to our oldest daughter in Germany. It’s widely accepted there to breastfeed in public and they also promote natural birth. During the pregnancy, when I was visiting my parents in Ukraine, I went with my husband to a pre-natal course, which also promoted the same values. So it was easy for us to choose a natural parenting approach.
    Later, when we moved to China, I discovered that they discourage mothers to breastfeed, telling them how much better formula is. I guess, it is connected to how soon a mother can go back to work.
    In Russia, where I gave birth to the second daughter, it’s also a recent hype about natural parenting, although if you happen to be treated by an old school doctor, they would seriously tell you off for your ‘fulling behaviour’ as they still do not accept these new trends.

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    • This is all really interesting and useful information for expats considering having a baby in another country – thank you. It is sometimes surprising how different attitudes can be in different countries – it’s good to hear Germany, Ukraine and Russia were all encouraging natural parenting at least. I heard from a Chinese lady on one of my courses here in the UK that ceseareans are very common over there too because they like to chose the day they give birth on…

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      • Yes, I think overall baby care and education are not so easy on the kids there.. But that’s a different culture, so expats just need to be aware if that and choose their own way whete desired. I’m very happy with the natural parenting approach we chose, but even in Europe some couples decide to take a different route.

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      • It’s definitely one of those subjects that can be very difficult to discuss as everyone has different ways of doing things. But I think as long as someone gets all the facts and then is really able to make their own decisions based on those facts, then it’s up to them how they parent. What isn’t so great is when people are swayed one way or another by the prevailing views of the local medical authorties (which defintely happens in the UK still!).

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      • On paper there is a move towards encouraging more home births and breastfeeding etc. But in reality our cesarean rates are rising still and many people are struggling to get the support they need to continue breastfeeding. A long way to go still. (by the way I have nothing against cesareans if needed – I had two myself – but as doctors become more fearful of getting sued when things go wrong, this is the way we will continue to go I think).

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  3. Hi! Sorry I am late to the party on this discussion but I thought you may be interested to hear from a Vietnamese perspective. Cesareans are by far the most common way of giving birth here – similar to what someone said above it is because Vietnamese women prefer to choose the day they give birth. The culture is extremely superstitious and women will usually consult with a fortune teller to choose the luckiest day for the birth. However, times are changing and a stronger Western influence on society here is leading to an increase in women having a natural birth.I had a natural birth and never felt any pressure to succumb to local custom, however this may be due to me being a foreigner and having a foreign doctor.

    Breastfeeding is strongly encouraged (and women are encouraged to use donated milk if they are unable to produce enough milk themselves in the beginning). I have breastfed in public a few times and the only time I have been given funny looks have been when I used a blanket to cover myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this insight. Good to hear that natural birth is becoming more the norm. I’m not anti cesarean (I had two myself!) but it shouldn’t be the default option. And it’s great that breastfeeding is encouraged. Again if you can’t, you can’t but for so many reasons it should be seen as the first preference where possible.

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