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Gia-Gina Across the Pond

So I've decided to follow my husband to his native Italy. Follow our adventures as we eat, drink, travel, adapt to and explore this remarkable country. Part food blog, part photo blog but mostly my rants and raves. After our two years in Italy, we relocated across the Atlantic "pond" and are back in the States.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Etiquette of Breast Feeding

Becoming a mom has been a wonderful experience. Veronica is five and a half weeks old and growing steadily. This past week we have been taking short walks and have been going out to lunch with friends. Normally she sleeps through most of the car rides and most outdoor activities but last week she decided to wake up in the middle of lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Without blinking an eyelash, I took my top off and began nursing her. Seattle is a very tame city and I have never seen a woman nursing openly in a mall or restaurant. I'm not sure I would be as quick to take off my top and nurse Veronica if I were still living in Seattle. Nevertheless, in Italy breast-feeding in public is a very common occurrence. Women breast-feed in restaurants, at the park, at the mall, on the bus, and just about everywhere. There is no shame in it at all. As a matter of fact, I have seen children up to three years old being nursed between bites of pizza and pasta at the food court of my local mall.

In England however, breast-feeding is not a protected right under the law (in public, that is). Recently there was a controversy regarding breast-feeding on the cover of Baby Talk magazine. It seems many of the magazine's subscribers were shocked and appalled to see a child nursing on the front cover of the magazine. Some readers of the magazine went as far as to use the words "disgusting , gross and shocking" to describe the cover. I have no idea what the big deal is. I am from a very modest family and I am very modest myself (I'm the type of person who goes into a rest room stall just to change into my workout clothes, before hitting the gym) but having a hungry child to feed has made my modesty disappear. (If you heard her screaming from hunger, you would know what I mean.) I never thought I would be so willing to expose myself for the better good of my child but these past two weeks have proved that I am. For once I am glad for the marked difference between Seattle and Torino.

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At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Autumn said...

I can't believe breastfeeding is illegal in public in England.
That's nuts.
When I was breastfeeding my two sons back in the states I would do it in public..but always with a blanket over my shoulder. I wasn't that confident to show my breasts off to the public..not to mention I think it is a very intimate thing to be share between mother and child.
Breastfeeding the child at the age of 3 is just plain gross.
I look at it as the same as giving a child a bottle at that age. Cup time! Hello!

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Ambra Celeste said...

It is nice to good things about your and Veronica's breastfeeding experiences. Nothing could be more natural than feeding a baby in the way nature designed us. I often think it is strange that anyone could object to it... It is all about food and only food, not the breast as a love object! Anyway, it is also nice to hear that the Torinese are comfortable about breastfeeding in public. That is how it should be, in my humble opinion.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Yael said...

Hang on it's not actually illegal in the UK, just one over zelous police officer by the sound of it.

I agree though I don't know why anybody should have an issue with it. But why is it gross at 3 Autumn? There are lots of positive arguments for breast feeding toddlers. You should do some reading about extended breastfeeding...and you might be surprised to learn that the World Health Organisation recommends all children are breastfed until at least the age of 2!

Keep on doing what you're doing Gia, my breasts have been public property for a while now, even my father in-law is blase about them!

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Autumn said...

Hi Yael,
When your child grows teeth i think it's a clue for things to change.
I breastfed my first for only 3 months and I regret it..but I was young and it didn't work for me at that time to go on further.
My second I fed until he was about 9 months. It was a natural progression and worked for us.
I know that every mother and child are different, but after a year it just is weird and it underestimates the development of the child.
When the child is the age of three and asking for the breast it is a developmental stunt for the child and does not foster independence.
I also believe it is a lazines and unwillingness of the mother to let her child become independent.
Also, many children of this age are in settings with other children and the mother is elsewhere.
How do you explain to the breastfeeding child at snack time that they can't have the breast?

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

My child grew teeth at four months, so I'm glad I didn't quit breastfeeding that early! To each her own, and what works in some families might not work in another. Interesting timing on this post, Gina, since a woman was just kicked off a Delta flight for breastfeeding without a blanket to cover up, and it has created a controversy in the U.S., where many states have enacted statutes specifically allowing breastfeeding in public, to protect breastfeeding mothers from overzealous prudes.

Can't resist mentioning my wonderful father-in-law was the youngest child in a large family and he was breastfed until he was six! He's in his 70s now and his entire family loves to tease him about it.

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gina, it's so funny, I too was the most modest person about showing my breasts until Zubin was born (hated the gym culture here of walking around naked in the locker room, but it just shows how much more comfortable Italian women are with their bodies than their American counterparts), and now I whip them out just about anywhere to feed Zubin. One of the things I absolutely LOVE about living in Italy with a baby is that nobody has batted an eye, EVER, while I have breastfed in public. Even my husband's grandfather (my grandfather in law?, whom I absolutely adore) is always telling me "feed him; he's hungry!" when we're at a restaurant. On the other hand, when we are in the US, I have noticed that people give sidelong glances, and it makes me angry because it's this kind of public judgement that makes moms less likely to stick with breastfeeding for the "inconvenience" of having to do it in public. I am shocked to hear about the woman being kicked off a Delta flight for breastfeeding recently. Is that legal? Last time I took a flight within the US, I was sitting next to a middle-aged man who was obviously uncomfortable with my breastfeeding Zubin (with a shawl over both of us!), but he didn't say anything, just squirmed uncomfortably. On flights within Europe on the other hand, nobody bats an eye, and regardless of gender, people try to help you out in any way possible if you are flying with an infant. I wonder if it's the fact that breasts are less "taboo" in Italy because they can be seen more often (on tv, in magazine adverts, etc.) than in the Puritan US? Anyway, about the appropriate age to stop breastfeeding, I think it's a completely personal decision. Zubin has three teeth (going on four) at 8 1/2 months and has never bit me, but we are starting a process of gradual weaning now as I have to go to California for work in early January. I am kind of sad about not being able to nurse him until he's one, but we've had a really good run until now, and I feel we're both ready to move on, especially as he wants to eat and drink everything in sight and is slowly losing interest in the breast. Personally, the idea of breastfeeding a three-year old does not appeal to me, and to be honest, would have "grossed me out" before I became a mom, but now I understand why someone would want to do that. My (Indian) parents have a friend who remembers someone being breastfed in his village in Gujarat until he was 13 years old! He would come home from school and ask mommy for a snack! No joke!

This is becoming an inordinately long post, but I have one very important question before signing off: where was the Chinese restaurant? What was it called? Was it halfway decent?

xo Shilpa

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Typesetter said...

Yael: actually one of the main reason why the OMS suggests breastfeeding up to 2 years is not because of breastfeeding in advanced societies, where acceptable alternatives to breastfeeding are available (I am talking merely from the phisical point of view, the psycological implictions, in this one case, are left aside), as well as for the thord world countries. In the "first world", as I said, there are aceptable feeding alternatives and most moms are just affluent enough to be able to afford good quality baby food and have access to safe milk and water. In the third world countries most moms can not afford baby food, clean water and good quality fresh milk. Thus, the safest source of the nutrients that a child needs to build up his skeleton is his or her mother's milk. Besides, reducing the need to drink water or liquids from other sources, prolonged breastfeeding also reduces the occurrence of many severe diseases. Finally, a longer breastfeeding period makes les probable for the mother to get pregnant again after a too short period, and in societies where often growth rates are dangerously high and anticonceptionals are few and far between (and more costly than what most could afford) this is an advantage too. Obviously, brastfeeding had phisical advantages for first world children as well, but these are not as huge as in the third world, and after the first year they tend to disappear. (Again, I am not talking about the psichological advantages or disadvantages of breastfeeding.)

Ambra Celeste: actually, the breast for the child IS an object of love. Some psychologists claim that the early connection between sex, love and food is made right at this stage, when the mother is object of both desire and love as well as source of food (and essentially of everything good that the child experiences). From this may derive some of the positive effects on the child of breastfeeding: some go to the point of connecting this early experience to the development of an adult less repressed towards both sex and food (which is a very good thing!), but obviosuly breastfeeding alone is a long way from beign enough to produce neurosis-free adults: an adult breastfed to 3 years but grown in a strict and extremely repressed society is far more likely to be in any way obsessed or in refusal of sex (two faces of the same coin) than an adult that has not been breastfed at all but who grew up in an unhinibited and balanced environment.

At 3:32 AM, Blogger miss cupcake said...

This is fast becoming an interesting forum and to me the discussion shows a progression of our thinking under social influences which may not be all that desirable:

At the very beginning, when a child is born, it is at a human's purest - body and mind. Babies seek out the source of food and love - the breasts.

Then when a child is older and able to interpret his/her social environment and social opinions around him or her, he or she may grow to become shy/ ashame of his or her body and its functions.

We, in the so called advanced societies, have often grown disconnected with ourselves being part of nature and from the nature. If we go on a sarfari (or even to our local zoo) do we see animals hiding when they nurse their cubs? The only hiding I could think of is if the mother could sense danger for the cubs to be exposed to the prey of stronger animals which want to make a meal of her babies.

It is interesting how us, the supposedly most intelligent beings on Mother Earth have also become the only animals of the animal kingdom who impose sexual repression on ourselves.

Well, we are what we are but it is worth spending a moment to ponder.

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Yael said...

It's nice to read that most people have such positive attitudes to breastfeeding. I am still breastfeeding my daughter at 16 months and intend to carry on until she is about 2. This is not an accident but a decision I made after extensive research. I have no-one to answer to accept her and when she is older I know I will be able to say that I made the best decision for her.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is NOT illegal in the UK - it is just not a right protected by law but it is normally not a problem!

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Indah said...

The baby-friendly attitude that the italians have is great. I always carry a thin blanket to cover myself -- besides I like being discreet, baby Alex seem to like his 'privacy' during feedings.I've breastfed in restaurants, in the middle of the piazza in Siena and people don't seem to mind. When we were in London a couple of months ago, I did get stares while feeding in a (casual) restaurant. It made me uncomfortable at first, but soon I just learned to ignore them. Maybe it's because facilities to breastfeed are available to moms (while shopping in London, we would drop in to Mother Care to use the special nursing room), so when people see moms whipping out their boobs in public, it's a bit weird for them (??) We're in the Bay area at the moment. I was a bit apprehensive about the reaction I might get from breastfeeding in public, but it turned out people don't seem to mind. Either people in this area have similar attitude towards breastfeeding in public like the italians, or I'm just so immune to stares. Although I do miss not being able to wear dresses while out(button down shirts & Ts are just easier, don't you think?) -- but that's nothing compared to the connection I have with my son.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Neena said...

Recently my Korean friend too told by Applebees Manager in the US that she can’t breastfeed her kid in the restaurant. BTW she always use light blanket in public so that’s not the case. Later they wouldn’t let her husband to smoke a cigar (bought in the US) in the smoking area around bar. There were lot of people smoking cigarettes there but they told him Cigar smoking is not allowed.

At 1:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well......my comment has nothing to do with breest feeding or with the topic. I'm popping up just to say HI. My name is manuela I started reading your blog only a week ago and I FIND IT GORGEOUS!!!!!!!!!! Bye!

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Gia-Gina said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. It's nice to know that I am being supported by ex-pats, Americans, and Italian's alike.

Breast-feeding has been difficult for me as Veronica was born a month or early in my milk took forever to come in. Now we are supplementing at night with formula as my milk supply is severely diminished at night.

After doing more research and reading the comments I have changed my blog post to reflect that breast-feeding in public is not a legal in England but it is not protected under the law.

I find being able to breast-feed in public in Italy at any place and at any time a very convenient right. I am curious to the reactions I will be getting when I travel to Seattle in March of 2007. Be sure to check back for a post about my experiences. I must say I love Italy's attitude towards children.

Personally I planned to breast-feed as long as I can, probably close to a year if I am able.

PS. A friend of mine who has breast-fed for two years has told me that after a year your breasts really go south. (In her humble opinion)

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the breast-feeding issue has two sides to it. of course nobody is sayign women shouldn't breast-feed, we all know it's good for the child etc etc. the issue is how other people might feel when exposed to this. i think covering uo with a blanket is appropriate, as is going into a private room. we can sing the praises of breast-feeding all we want but that doesn't mean other people should be forced to watch. and as far as italy being baby-friendly, in some senses it is BUT in a LOT of ways it's not: not one single resaturant has baby chairs or high chairs, or even booster seats! super markets don't have those baby seats in shopping carriages, in england and USA there are more services available for a mother with kids.

At 2:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in response to neena's comments about cigar smoke- OF course they wouldn't let him smoke a cigar in the smoking area, cigars STINK!! come on, we all know that. cigarettes are bad enough but the smell (actually the stink) of cigars in unbearable and 200 times more intense.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Yael said...

Anonymous, where in Italy do you live??? Every supermarket here has babyseat trolleys (and the ones with cars on the front for toddlers) and I know at least twenty places to eat in my city that have high chairs. As for covering up or going somewhere private, why should I feed my baby in the toilet because other people have issues with breasts? Breasts are for feeding babies so if you don't like it don't watch!

Gia, mine have seriously gone south...I'm terrified of what they're going to look like when I'm done feeding! But hey they had 35 years of pertness...

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Neena said...


Don't they suppose to put a sign which says NO CIGAR SMOKING (don't tell me Americans don't smoke Cigars, almost every store sells it). I know it you know it they were mad as my friend tried to breast fed her baby there. They targeted them as they speak with an accent. BTW Canadians are much better with these things. One don't have to feel left out while breast feeding. Virtually you can do it anywhere, Restaurants, Parks, Shopping Centers etc. etc.

P.S. If I were them I would have filed a law suit citing racism and discrimination as we don't have any laws which bar us not doing it in public.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Typesetter said...

Anonymous, sorrry, but cigarettes stink due to the chemicals added to the tobacco and because of the paper. Quality cigars have a wonderful sweet perfume. Maybe you have never been in the neighborhood of a good cigar, but believe me that the reason for people started smoking (and snuffing and chewing) tobacco is that good tobacco is wonderful. Bad tobacco is used in sigarettes and cheap cigars.

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous DrW said...

Anonymous- just because someone is breastfeeding in public does not mean those around them are forced to watch! If you don't want to see it, don't look.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this discussion, because I am moving to Italy soon, to be with my Italian boyfriend, and I have been worrying about how my parenting choices will be percieved by the general public (but mainly my in-laws-to-be) when the time comes. I know I will breastfeed until it feels natural to stop, and i know I will make my own baby food, and not feel my children white pasta.

My observations have been that Italian mothers worship thier children, but treat them like an accesory. It seems like they really love thier kids, but they are following the cultural norms, instead of learning about the best things they can do for thier children. Two words: car seats!

At 4:18 AM, Anonymous Franklin said...

It's not illegal to breastfeed in England and there is now a law which protects mothers feeding in public. It came in during 2010. About time too!!

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous muebles mostoles said...

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