Nursing Abroad

I traveled to Belize for a wedding last week. My husband and I left our older son with his grandparents, but took our baby along because he’s nursing. It seemed so obvious to us that he had to accompany us–how would he eat otherwise?? Plus he’s a really easygoing little dude, so we knew he’d be okay through flights and time changes.

The domestic portion of our travel went just as I expected. I saw people’s unease as I prepared to board a plane with a wee baby, but lavished their comments afterward when my baby nursed the whole flight without making a peep. “What a quiet little baby you have there! He’s such a good flyer,” they all said. And I agreed.

But! Once I was actually in a foreign country where nursing is more prevalent, I was surprised by all the subtle ways I felt awesome nursing my baby all over the place.

nursing baby on a boat

I nursed Felix on our sunset cruise and nobody cared! I’m using a blanket because my shoulders were chilly, not at all because I felt like I needed to cover up.

I feed him on demand, so I’m used to plopping down to nurse when I’m out and about. I was not used to everyone being so casual about this. The lack of response to my nursing in public felt awesome. When I nursed at restaurants, servers looked me in the eye and kept on talking as if nothing strange were happening. Female servers tended to even tickle Felix’s little toes while he was nursing, or shake his hand. That never happens at home!

We took a sunset cruise on a catamaran and there was a male sailor passing out drinks and talking about the sea. He was 21 years old (he was very proud of this and told us a few times!) and even he thought nothing of my nursing baby as he asked me whether I’d prefer rum punch or local beer.

It wasn’t that folks were not noticing my nursing–the locals saw, but just observed it as a normal mother feeding her baby the normal way.

The only time anyone made reference to my nursing at all was when I sat in a hammock nursing Felix at sunrise on the beach. The security guard came over to tell me he has a son about the same age and “isn’t it wonderful to feed them wherever you want, to watch the sunrise during breakfast?”

Our American companions on the trip were the only folks who seemed uncomfortable about this nursing babe, and the contrast felt really evident to me. While I nursed in a taqueria one afternoon, the staff smiled at my baby and me while our dining companions stiffened and kept their eyes focused off in the distance.

Another time, several minutes into a conversation (and nursing session), our friend yelled, “Oh my God! You’re breastfeeding! Gah!” and walked away. So modest was my nursing shirt, he hadn’t even realized what was happening until he took a close look.

I know our American friends were not being deliberately weird/rude about nursing–my husband and I are among the first of our friends to have children and so very few of our friends are accustomed to seeing nursing mothers. Nursing is not normalized in American culture, so I understand and am used to their response.

I often feel, at home, our culture suggests nursing is something to hide away, somehow shameful. So I felt even better when the Belizean people took breastfeeding in stride. There, nursing was just the way you feed a baby, something natural and wonderful–something to celebrate.

I answered a lot of questions for our friends about nursing (and cleared up some misconceptions about pumping!) and I hope that seeing my family tote a baby around on vacation demonstrated how very possible it can be to fold nursing into regular life. Maybe one day, my friends will see a mother nursing in a coffee shop back home and have no reaction whatsoever. I hope that some day soon, nursing is so normalized here that foreign visitors don’t even notice a difference.

Have you had the opportunity to nurse internationally? Share your experiences in the comments!

1 comment to Nursing Abroad

  • Kenda Wathen

    I love nursing each of my babies. My oldest two were able to nurse beyond 2 yrs and the oldest weaned herself where as I was the one to wean our son at 2 1/2. Our youngest is now 19 mo and still nursing on demand. I am cherishing each and every moment as she is our last and these days will be gone too soon. You are so right about American culture not getting nursing as natural and normal. My in laws are not in favor of it and my own family, while supporting it, is often uncomfortable. I was able to prove how good it is when she was sick recently and that was her only nutrition for a few days. So thankful this is something I can do with my children.

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