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Global Perspectives On Breastfeeding

I boarded a ferry crossing the Adriatic Sea from Italy to Croatia. In search of a good vantage point to experience the 4-hour journey, I saw an empty window seat near a young Croatian couple traveling with their 3 year old daughter.  Our seats were fairly close together and facing each other, so it was hard not to get sucked into their world — especially after their daughter ran over from where she was playing, pulled out her mother’s breast and started nursing in front of me.

When the little girl ran off again, her mother continued to chat with her husband, neither seeming to notice that her breast was still exposed. I squirmed a bit in my seat, trying to stay focused on the passing waves and not the cultural clash playing out in our row. My discomfort only grew as this exchange — child running off, returning to suckle for a few moments, then going back to playful adventures on the boat — repeated itself over and over during the next few hours.

Somewhere in the middle of the Adriatic, I realized how oxymoronic American culture is.  I am a woman with breasts, who would proudly use them for their God-granted purpose to (one day) nourish my children.  So, why did I find myself so uncomfortable in this setting?  We’ve been socialized to accept the site of mountainous cleavage barely contained behind triangles of cloth on the beach or fully exposed in romantic movie scenes. But, the site of a mother nursing her child in the open somehow felt inappropriate?

Granted, there were things that probably heightened my sensitivity — the child was quite old and rather insistent; I was sitting a mere 3 feet away and directly facing the mother; and the mother was pretty nonchalant about being exposed. But, that experience brought me face-to-face with the oddities of my culture and showed me that I — who’d like to believe I’m an independent, critical thinker  — have a lot of ingrained ideology to re-examine.  (And, this intellectual challenge is what I love about travel.)

Today, my cousin shared a post on Facebook that transported me back to the internal dialogue over the Adriatic.  Here are 4 striking images of mothers very comfortably nursing their children in situations that we might otherwise find controversial.

Breastfeeding while talking to President Hugo Chavez
Breastfeeding while Motorcross racing


Breastfeeding while fleeing from Kosovo
Breastfeeding while protesting in the Amazon


You can find dozens more photos of women around the world nursing their babies on sites like Beautiful Breastfeeding.

While we at BGFly don’t find these images offensive, they apparently have caused quite a controversy on Facebook, resulting in some accounts being deleted or suspended for obscene imagery. You can find more details about the backlash at Jodine’s World, where we first saw some of these images.

As a travel & culture blog, our reason for sharing this story today is a bit less about the burgeoning protests from mothers across the web world (though we support it) and more about the differences in how breastfeeding is perceived and what’s deemed appropriate social behavior across different cultures.

Fly girls and traveling brothers, you tell us. What’s your take on global attitudes about public breastfeeding?  Have you encountered other similar travel epiphanies that challenge your own cultural norms?


  1. meandmypassport says

    What an enlightening post! How very true that in American culture, most of us would be shocked and some offended that a mother would breastfeed 1. a three year old and 2. not cover herself in any way…but on the other hand, be in no way phased by seeing near naked breasts at a nightclub or on/near a beach. Definitely makes me think about how I would respond in this situation and why.

    1. Chelle says

      Hey MeandMyPassport. Thanks for your comments. It definitely was enlightening for me too. 🙂 I checked out your blog. Super cute!

  2. Mimi says

    As a mother who has breastfed my youngest for over a year and my oldest for nearly 8 months I find it horrific how the US treats breastfeeding mothers. I think its due to lack of knowledge but the fact that a woman who will expose herself in the club gets more “love” for her breasts than a mother using them for their intended purpose is disheartening.

    I was never comfortable breastfeeding in public as a personal preference but I think all mothers who do should be supported.

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