Cultural Customs Surrounding Breast Feeding Across Cultures and History Research Paper

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Cultural Customs Surrounding Breast Feeding

Breast Feeding along History and Cultures

Breast Feeding is a practice that has existed ever since mankind came into being. It has been practiced for thousands of years and has been considered a sacred bond between the mother and the child by some cultures while others have disregarded the practice largely through societal influences and due to the changing trends whereby they started laying more importance on the new formulas created to feed the newborns. Nevertheless, there are varying trends that are noticeable in different cultures and the practice has evolved through history and has been conveniently retained by many as well.

History of breast feeding:

Throughout the world and from the start of mankind, infant care and breast feeding has had its roots. At some point in time, breast feeding remained as a practice within the poor people who could not afford to provide for their children and by the 20th century, many countries had started finding alternatives for breast feeding. With time, the culture of breast feeding was resumed and it became a common practice for women from all over the world feed their newborns with their own milk.

When a woman gives birth to a child, she begins to lactate. All mammals make and release milk from secretion glands. It is important for a new born to be fed and raised by a lactating woman. Mothers and the wet nurses have been involved in the process of breast feeding children for over hundreds and thousands of years. If a mother was not available, the child may occasionally be fed goat or cow milk. When the breast feeding trend decreased, baby food started to be made which consisted of sugar, honey, water, wheat and broth but the babies did not gain the nutrition that a baby who was breastfed gained and some of them even died. But by the 1800s, there was a shift away from breast feeding and new formulas of baby food were created which turned out to be quite successful (Greiner, 1998).

By the 1950s, most of the babies were being fed formulated baby food but eventually mothers felt the need to retain the old traditions which brought back trends of breast feeding. The research conducted eventually started showing that the mother's milk was the best nutritious diet for the child and hence women were educated about breast feeding which brought back the trends of breast feeding which still exist in various cultures in the world (Beske, 1982).

Breastfeeding across cultures:

The continuation of breast feeding trends is influenced by interplays of culture, social aspects as well as economic statuses. In various countries where these practices are still present and practiced, the mothers generally start breast feeding immediately after the child is born. Up until a few years ago, the hospitals in some Western countries started putting a stop towards the breast feeding and used to separate the mother and the child. This began to have negative effects on an effective process of breast feeding between the mother and the child because this is a biologically driven instinct that should not be interfered with (Kaewsarn, 2003).

In Canada, many groups have a cultural trend of breast feeding but some of these have started switching to methods of bottle feeding. Most of the immigrant groups living in Canada still have the traditional beliefs whereby they consider the formula baby feed and milk as the preferable nutrient for the child.

In some cultures, breast feeding is generally accepted and it is not considered much of a problem even if it is taking place in the general public. But in countries like North America and the Western side of Europe, breast feeding is not accepted publicly basically because women do not want to expose their bodies in public because it is considered to be a sacred part of the woman's body. Many countries have a certain level of modesty attached to a woman's dress code and have certain ways in which the woman dresses so women may be uncomfortable performing the act in public.

In some cultures, breast feeding is emphasized and given a lot of significance. Cultures like that of Africa, South Asia and Latin America have customs of providing the new mother with a rest period which lasts for about 30 to 40 days where she can fully concentrate on feeding and taking care of the child. The immediate as well as the distant family members co-operate with her and provide assistance with the household chores to ease her stress and responsibilities. The family bond and the importance given to breast feeding varies from culture to culture which in turn affects the way the mother cares for the child and the extent to which they are open with the practice (Beske, 1982).

In the culture of North America, the clothes that women wear are not conducive so as to cater to the needs of the child to breast feed the child. However in other countries not in North America, women are sometimes dressed in very loose fit clothes which are well adapt to respond to the hunger instincts of a child as and when it demands food. Without the support of the society, the family and the way the household is structured, it is quite difficult to carry out this tradition and respond to the child's needs accordingly. There still remain certain groups that recognize the advantages of breast feeding customs and hence emphasize the need to continue with it in the society because of the nutrients and nourishing that it provides the child with.

Sometimes cultural norms and traditions hold back certain practices, one of which is that of breast feeding in United States because of the way the society perceives the customs and the practice. It's not that they prefer the formulated baby food over the milk of a mother's breast. All they argue is that breasts are not meant to feed a child because that is not the purpose they serve. They perceive the formulated food for babies as more updated, sophisticated, easier, and more affluent and more "today." In many cultures and societies, breasts are perceived as merely a sex object that is not meant for babies to feed on or milk their teeth because a woman cannot produce enough milk to fulfill the baby's diet (Hill, 1991). This is one of the many reasons provided by women in America to stop the practice of breast feeding. This however is scientifically proven not to be true. It is proven that the stop to breast feeding impacts the children in a negative way by causing colic cases and more problems.

One of the myths that contribute to the stop to breast feeding practices is that those women who breast feed their children tend to have droopy breasts that sag a lot. It is known that some changes are noticed in the breasts after the mother starts feeding their children but they normally take place whether or not the woman decided to feed her baby because such changes are biological and occur with age and weight changes as well so it cannot directly be linked to breast feeding.

Breast feeding remains quite unpopular in regions such as Hong Kong which is quite a shame because the milk of Chinese women is supposedly full of nutrients because of their rick diet which contains eggs and fish which proves to be a good component to give the child the necessary nutrients.

In Egyptian cultures, although it is discouraged to breast feed a child in public, there is a trend of feeding the child with the mother's milk within the homes and in the company of close female relatives or friends. It is not that they discourage breast feeding; it is just…[continue]

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