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Photos: Erin White
Breastfeeding is pretty much the norm these days in Norway. The images in this post are of mothers and babies in Oslo, where photographer Erin White conducted a photo shoot recently as part of the “Women in The Wild” project to promote breastfeeding.
The many mothers who took part talked about the general acceptance of breastfeeding in public by Norwegian society. Mother May-Britt Bjorke, said:
“Here in Norway it is okay to breastfeed small babies anywhere, and it’s almost worse, many feel, to give a bottle in public than breastfeed.”
In 2012 Save the Children published its thirteenth annual State of the World’s Mothers report. Its focus was the 171 million children globally who do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential due to the physical and mental effects of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life. The report showed which countries were doing the best and which the worst at providing nutrition during a mother’s pregnancy through to her child’s second birthday. It looked at key nutritional solutions, including breastfeeding, that have the greatest potential to save lives, and showed that these solutions are affordable, even in the world’s poorest countries.
The Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard was drawn up by an examination of maternity leave laws, the right to nursing breaks at work, and other indicators to rank 36 developed countries on the degree to which their policies support women who want to breastfeed.
Norway tops the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard ranking. The United States comes in last.
Save the Children announced, “Norwegian mothers enjoy one of the most generous parental leave policies in the developed world. After giving birth, mothers can take up to 36 weeks off work with 100 percent of their pay, or they may opt for 46 weeks with 80 percent pay (or less if the leave period is shared with the father). In addition, Norwegian law provides for up to 12 months of additional child care leave, which can be taken by both fathers and mothers. When they return to work, mothers have the right to nursing breaks as they need them. Nearly 80 percent of hospitals have been certified as ‘baby-friendly’ and many provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes have been enacted into law. Breastfeeding practices in Norway reflect this supportive environment: 99 percent of babies there are breastfed initially and 70 percent are breastfed exclusively at 3 months.”
Norway has few problems with breastfeeding initiation and support when compared to the other countries. The United States “is the only economically advanced country—and one of just a handful of countries world wide—where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. There is also no paid parental leave required by U.S. law. Mothers may take breaks from work to nurse, but employers are not required to pay them for this time. Only 2 percent of hospitals in the United States have been certified as ‘baby-friendly’ and none of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes has been enacted into law. While 75 percent of American babies are initially breastfed, only 35 percent are being breastfed exclusively at 3 months.”
Participant May-Britt was quick to point out that while the nursing of infants is widely accepted and encouraged in Norway, that level of support comes with a strict time limit. Once the baby reaches 12 months, stories of harassment and disapproval from friends, family, and even physicians are commonplace.
“As soon as the baby can eat solids and drink water many feel pressure to stop, and when the baby becomes a toddler, many get nasty comments and looks. God forbid if you breastfeed more than two or three years, you risk getting accused of being a pervert. Long term breastfeeding provokes, it seems” said May-Britt.
Photographer Erin White, disheartened by this lack of support for full-term nursing amongst the otherwise accepting and progressive people of Norway, said, “Women are being failed here just as they are in the USA. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to age two and beyond and for as long thereafter as is mutually desired by mother and child. Science supports the idea that the benefits of breastfeeding don’t end because a baby has turned one.”
Hege, another project participant who is breastfeeding her toddler, commented, “Why are we so eager to stop nursing when we know about the benefits breastfeeding provides for both mother and child? And add the convenience of always having a snack ready at the right temperature (with no dishes to wash afterwards) whenever he’s hungry, thirsty, or tired, or falls and needs comfort… It’s something that eventually will stop without intervention. Using a pacifier when the child is two or three is commonly accepted here, but using what this plastic thing is made to imitate suddenly turns into something many people find to be a strange thing to do.”
The “Women in the Wild” concur, the good things about breastfeeding don’t come with an expiration date. And all countries need to support mothers to breastfeed for as long as they wish to do so.
Editor’s note. In January 2016 The Lancet Breastfeeding Series Global Launch reported on the most extensive piece of research into the effects of breastfeeding ever undertaken. Increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent over 800000 child deaths and 20000 deaths from breast cancer every year. Failing to breastfeed costs the global economy around US$302 billion every year. Victora, C. et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect The Lancet 30 January 2016; 387 (10017): 475-490.
Does your country respect and support breastfeeding?
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