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How Long Do Other Cultures of the World Breastfeed?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
This is a seemingly naive question because I think many of us have read about the length of breastfeeding among other cultures in the World.....Katherine Dettwyler for one has done studies on this. But I think this thread will (hopefully) be good for two reasons:

(1) To educate (or re-educate) ourselves on the breastfeeding practices of mothers from around the World based on what we've read, studied, experienced as travelers, etc.


(2) To gain perspective from others' personal and/or family experiences here in our forum (whether from personal experience or shared stories passed down from ancestors).

I know we have a variety of Mamas here, I am hoping everyone will share their knowledge and experiences. (This includes cultures within the U.S.)

post #2 of 20
Well, I spent some of my childhood in a village in India and remember everyone there saying that children (especially boys LOL) should nurse until age 5. My sister nursed the whole time we were there and she was almost 4 when we left. She only had to wean because my mother was in a major accident and hospitalized. Poor thing
I don't think it's as common now with people wanting to be modern and formula companies aggressively targetting that country, though. But there is this general idea that babies are babies until age 5. They don't even incur karma until after age 5.
post #3 of 20
Thread Starter 
That makes sense. I have an older friend who is from India (moved to U.S. as a young adult) and she encouraged me to continue breastfeeding. She told me that she breastfed her dd's "for years". At the time I thought it was a bit strange, but look where I ended up! I think she planted the seed. She was the one who also encouraged me to breastfeed in front of everyone, to celebrate it with pride rather than feel shame.

I dug up a great LLL article that touches on breastfeeding length in some other cultures. For one thing, it says that the Inuit breastfeed/breastfed for 7 yrs. And Hawaiians (ancient Hawaiians) for 5yrs.

post #4 of 20
I am from Chile, and 99% of women breastfeed at birth.

My dad (born in 1950) was breastfed for 6 years. That was the norm back then, now, unoficially, what I have observed, is that the "norm" is a year. Most mamas don't wean before 12 months, this is from what I have seen there now. It's very breastfeeding-friendly, everyone NIP's and it's seen as a very normal thing. Chile has a lot of poverty, therefore a lot of women don't even have the choice of buying artificial baby milks (which I guess is good, because they stick to breastfeeding instead)

post #5 of 20
I live in China, and spend a great deal of time in Thailand. I know here, the older generation is super-pro BF, but so many of the younger women have to work that many don't nurse for more than a few weeks. Formula is becoming more common, partly cause they see it as easier and partly because it's almost impossible to find a decent pump/pumping supplies so they could pump and work.

In rural areas, where people are considerably poorer than in the cities, BF is still much more the norm, and even here in the city, we often see the poorer women sitting on the curbside NIP. There's no bad stigma about that at all. People come up to me, complete strangers, asking me if my baby is nursing, how's my milk supply, giving me suggestions on increasing it, etc!

My daughter was born in Thailand, and I was appalled that I was the only woman there who was nursing full time at the beginning - some women were nursing, but left their babies in the nursery to be FF at night so they could sleep. Some didn't try to nurse at all. Our pediatrician told me Thai women can't nurse because they have small breasts and that since mine were big, that was why we had success. She also said that they routinely give formula, 3 bottles a day, to kids up to age 3!! : She said she figured it was just probably a marketing ploy by the formula companies, but that they were claiming formula was better than BM, and that it's standard medical practice. They were shocked that my 2 yo has never had formula!

My DH travels in Mongolia often, and though it's not as common anymore in the cities, in rural areas many women EN and even tandem nurse for an extended period (years, not sure)

Many of our friends are Muslim, and they've told me that Mohammed said children have the right to be nursed til age 2 at least, so they've congratulated me for doing that, but I've noticed many of the younger generation aren't doing that as much anymore . . .

Just my rambling thoughts from the cultures we have contact with
post #6 of 20
our ped is from India, she was always very supportive of my EN dd. when I got pregnant for ds, she asked me "are you going to nurse thru this preg. and tandem nurse?"
I said "of course"
her response was a veru releived "great" "you know in India, it wouldn't even occur to a woman to wean just because you got pregnant! You nurse your children till they decide they are ready to stop"

but in our very concervative town, in Ontario, canada I see most women would rather have the convienece of formula and actual enjoy the freedom it gives them to be away from there babies so very few are choosing to nurse and even fewer are nursing past a few months
post #7 of 20
Good morning all

It seems to be a trend, that with modernization comes weaning..or abm. I know in cultures where mom is able to stay with baby, a more relaxed attitude towards breastfeeding exists.

Also, I think 5 or 6 is typically the age of starting school, so weaning may occur if it hasn't already.

I feel grateful that due to seeing my sisters nurse and never worry about weaning, that I never had a preconceived age for cessation of nursing.

Great thread
post #8 of 20
Here in Germany, the oldest baby I have seen being nursed is 8 months. My one German friend nurses her 2.5yo once a day, and says she cannot talk about it with her friends because everyone weans at 6 months.
post #9 of 20
Oh, and we once had a ped from Ghana, who was absolutely thrilled that I was BFing Liam - he kept saying "BF babies are sooo much healthier, we almost never have them get sick. But of course, we don't tell the mothers that. We ask, 'are you nursing or bottle feeding?' and if they say bottle, we say hmmm. Ok. But nursing is great!"

He was still freaked that Emily was nursing at 2 years old, and that I was tandem nursing.

Had a ped from India who was absolutely against nursing and tandem nursing, which surprised me til I found out her medical training was from the US :
post #10 of 20
I always assumed that babes in more "primative" cultures would have nursed until self weaning but from what I read in Our Babies, Ourselves: How Culture and Biology Shape Our Parenting By Merideth F. Small I was shocked at how many cultures do mother led weaning. Some even using what we would call extreme measures even. The weaning age went from at the youngest at a year to about 4 years, but child led weaning wasn't the norm reported. This was also shown in how large or small their child spacing was in different societies and cultures. Obviously, those that nursed longer had larger spacing between children than those who weaned sooner. Also, tandem nursing wasn't mentioned as the norm either, which also surprised me.
post #11 of 20

How Long Do The Other Cultures Of The World Breastfeed

Only a few weeks earlier there was a thread on the same topic to which I had contributed. China Doll has correctly stated that amongst Muslims the religion enjoins a woman to breastfeed for two years. In India, traditionally child led weaning was popularly practised. Even dry breastfeeding (quite often even to other mothers' children) was not uncommon. After that came a phase where in the name of modrnity and convenience 'formula' became popular. Still it is. (Storing milk in the fridge is not generally resorted to, nor the use of breast pumps. Milk Banks, except in one or two metropolitan cities, are just not there, though with mutual agrrement, other mothers do help out the needy.) However, because of increased consciousness about the benefits of breastfeeding, the latest trend is towards almost universal breastfeeding and increase in its duration, that is in the age of weaning. Children are generally weaned sometime around the age of three years. Recently, I had an opportunity to go to the local University for some work and was pleasanly surprised to find two girl students of senior classes, in jeans and shirt tops, coming out at the appointed time to bf their babies who were brought to the Common Room by their nannies from nearby colonies. Other girl students did not seem to take notice, one or two patting and kissing the babies. Only a few years ago such a behaviour was unthinkable from 19-20 year old student mothers as they would have felt shy.
post #12 of 20
I was raised in the Mormon church. Most of the Mormon women nurse their babies and it seems to me that they nurse for at least a year. My grandmother nursed all 8 of her children, including twins, for one year - then weaned them strait to a cup - no bottles.

Our Babies, Ourselves is a great book to talk about this stuff. I often wondered if self-weaning was actually that common and I really doubt that it is now.
post #13 of 20
Dh was born in rural Ethiopia. He was breastfed until age five. That was only a little "odd". People asked when he was going to wean, but weren't negative. In rural areas, they breastfeed for years. But the wealth and those who want to be "modern" tend to go with bottles and formula.
post #14 of 20
I was actually not very impressed at all with the book Our Babies, Ourselves. A much better, broader, and accurate book (WRT lactation among other things) is Milk, Money, and Madness. I found a lot of what was written (in Our Babies, Ourselves) was slightly misguided, personal interpretation and incomplete information. I suppose that's for another thread in another forum though . I just wanted to point out that, while it's true that tandem nursing and CLW aren't always the norm in more "primative" cultures, many of these things are led by superstition/misinformation - very much like the way many cultures won't give a newborn colostrum. When we have the facts (i.e. colostrum is liquid gold that is necessary for newborns, tandem nursing is beneficial and poses no risks, etc.) I think we can redefine natural, kwim?
post #15 of 20
Great information on a topic I have been most curious about. THANKS!

Loving-My-Babies... my mom was from Chile (Santiago) and dad is from Peru. My whole family is there but sadly I have never met most of them (I am in los estados unidos)
Would love to take DS one day to meet the tribe.
post #16 of 20
Thread Starter 
Wow Thanks to everyone who shared. I was hoping for something like this but was worried that those who could share might not see the thread.

Question: I read (in the above mentioned article) that the Inuit (aka Eskimo) breastfed for 7 years on average. Anyone have any experience with the Inuit or other Native American tribes?

Originally Posted by MamaAllNatural
When we have the facts (i.e. colostrum is liquid gold that is necessary for newborns, tandem nursing is beneficial and poses no risks, etc.) I think we can redefine natural, kwim?
post #17 of 20
interesting thread! thanks! i hope that one day the average age in the US is at least till 1 year, preferably till 2. Who knows if we will see CLW in our lifetime though, which is sad.
post #18 of 20
I'd just like to point out that saying "Chilean women do this" or "French women do this" is very problematic. There is HUGE variation with countries, especially since Kathryn D. did her research (which, while politically useful was quite limited, is outdated and not all that great according to many anthropologists). Just as there is no one homogenous US (or Canadian, etc.) experience of bfing the same is true of women in the Global South (or whatever term you use!!). There are differences in bfing that can be traced to factors such as urban/rural place of residence, social class, influence of colonization (a HUGE factor), etc. etc. I work in academia and although my research is in the US (on motherhood and such) many of my colleagues do work abroad and their stories of bfing cover a VERY large range- from rural areas in Nigeria where formula (imported from guess where?! : ) is de rigeur to urban upper class women in the Bahamas who are just beginning to return to bfing after yeas of American propoganda.

I think the OP's two points/questions are EXCELLENT, and personally i do love hearing about other women's experiences of bfing but i always think it's important not to assume homogeniety among certain groups of women.....in many places CLW and EBF have never been the norm because of things like civil wars and mass migrations. for example, during the guerilla uprisings in central america it's estimated that 14/-1/3 of the guerillas were Indigenous women with young children that they left behind- clearly bfing would be impacted. right now the majority of the world's transnational workers are women of childbearing age who travelling sometimes around the world to find work- i'd lvoe to know how this affects ideas about mothering, parenting, bfing, etc....
post #19 of 20
Only breastfeeding info I've seen on the Inuit gave 3 years as the norm for breastfeeding.

Of course if 3 years is the norm, some will go beyond...

There's also the issue of how the mom defines "still nursing". Do the Mexican mothers observed by Brazelton calling their older children over for a quick suckle from the side the baby is not using, for the health boost, consider those children to be unweaned?
post #20 of 20
My dad is first generation American and his family came from Italy. He tells a story that when he was in first grade there was a little Italian boy who went home every day at lunch b/c he was still nursing. This was apparently quite normal in the immigrant Italian community in the 20s/30s.
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