The general perception of breastfeeding in the United States has changed dramatically in the last century, and has continued to evolve in our own lifetime. Today, the majority of American mothers are strongly encouraged to breastfeed, not only at birth, but up to a year or longer. Scientific evidence plays a significant role in the public's understanding of the importance of breastfeeding. In fact, moms who can't, or choose not to breastfeed, often feel guilty or ashamed. But, is this feeling exclusive to American moms? What is breastfeeding like in other countries?
According to the Journal of Nutrition, at the turn of the 20th century, close to 70 percent of all mothers in the United States breastfed their children. However, this number began to decline, and by 1972 only 22 percent of American women initiated breastfeeding. The number began to rise in the mid-'70s, dipping again in the early '80s, and growing steadily since. It is believed that the increase was partially related to the move from "twilight sleep" childbirth to epidurals where moms could immediately hold and nurse their children. This was also the time when moms were encouraged to try infant-led nursing rather than adhering to a strict breastfeeding schedule, making the process less stressful to both the mom and baby. Breastfeeding advocacy groups such as La Leche League International (LLLI), also encouraged more moms to initiate breastfeeding.
In other countries, where the amount of education, resources and/or encouragement for breastfeeding mother differs, their practices may differ as well. Here are some ways breastfeeding, and the beliefs and customs surrounding it, varies around the world.