For those not in the know, it is World Breastfeeding Week. From August 1-7 the “breast is best” mindset is being celebrated throughout 170 countries worldwide. Marketing efforts even include a photo competition to promote this natural artform.
In Sweden, it is presumed you will want to breastfeed your baby. It’s not usually up for discussion in the pre-birth parenting groups and mothers that simply can’t produce seem to be consumed with guilt and explanation instead.
Yet, the country is a shining example for the World Health Organization’s recommendation that exclusive breastfeeding is optimal for the first six months. The percentage of babies that have been breast-fed in Sweden hits the high nineties. Given the Swedes strict adherence to authority they routinely stop after half a year and switch to solids.
I have witnessed nursing rooms in Stockholm shopping malls but, as a rule, breastfeeding is not a discreet affair. Like most other mums, I think nothing of sitting on a street bench or stopping in the park to feed my hungry child. Yet fellow expat mum here who are holidaying in their homeland for the summer, have expressed concerns about expected reactions from breastfeeding at all, never mind baring it all in ful-frontal fashion. If it’s not a bottle, discretion is the word.
In 2009, a public breastfeeding display did capture attention in Sweden and the global media too. Ragnar Bengtsson, a 26-year-old father, decided to experiment to see if he could produce milk to breastfeed his future children. The self-styled Swedish “milkman” failed in his bid to lactate. Still, for his efforts, he won a trip to the States to appear on The Tyra Banks show – not a bad booby prize.
Now, I’ve been in Sweden long enough now to bare all. That Swedes have few inhibitions when it comes to being scantily clad was coined back in the sixties era of free love and sexual liberation. But somehow it stuck. The image remains of beautiful bare-chested blondes sweating in the sauna before running freely down to the water for a skinny-dipping session. It’s not an everyday occurrence but yes, they do and yes, I’ve joined in.
Being at one with nature is not quite the same when you’re on the Stockholm commuter train faced with a rather large breast to accompany your journey home. I recently spotted a mother openly feeding her child en route and chatting on her phone. No one poked their head out from behind their newspaper nor raised an eyebrow.
I took heed, stopped staring and refrained from whipping out my camera. Shame – a shot of this mobile-talking, mobile-feeding mother would surely have been a contender for the World Breastfeeding Week photo comp.