Recently, Women in the Wild, had the distinguished privilege of conducting a photo shoot with a group of breastfeeding mothers in Oslo, Norway.
In speaking with the women there, we were happy to hear that breastfeeding is quite normal and widely accepted. Woman after woman, expressed how absurd it seemed, that there would be a lack of support for breastfeeding in the United States. Women in Norway breastfeed, it is a non issue, simply the way that babies are fed.
From the 2012 ” State of the Worlds Mothers report” (http://www.savethechildren.ca/document.doc?id=195):
“Norway tops the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard ranking. 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.”
Compare this to the USA:
“The United States ranks last on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country and one of just a handful of countries worldwide 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.”
Obviously, Norway has few problems with breastfeeding initiation and support, when compared to the United States.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems for breastfeeding moms in that country.
Every woman we interviewed, expressed the concern, that while the nursing of infants is widely accepted and encouraged, that support, comes to a crashing halt, once the baby reaches the age of one year. Each woman cited multiple incidences of disapproval, and harassment from friends, family members , and even physicians .
Project participant, May-Britt Bjorke, shared these insights:
“Here in Norway it is okay to breastfeed small babies anywhere, and it’s almost worse to give a bottle in public many feel, than breastfeed. But 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 2/3 years, you risk getting accused of beeing a pervert from som people. Longterm breastfeeding provokes, it seems.”
Although American women are not unfamiliar with this issue,and certainly affected by lack of support for full term nursing, we were disheartened to learn that Norway, in all of its progressiveness, is still failing women and children in this manner.
According to the World Health Organization , children should be breastfed until the age of two years old, and for as long thereafter as is mutually desired by mother and child.
The scientific community maintains that the biological norm for human beings is a weaning age of somewhere between 4-7 years. It has been estimated that world-wide, typical weaning age might be close to 4 years.
Obviously, science supports the idea that the benefits of breastfeeding don’t end because a baby has turned one.
Project participant and nursing mother of a young toddler, Hege, shared her thoughts on the benefits of natural term nursing:
“Why are we so eager to stop nursing? When we know about all the benefits breastfeeding provides for both mother and child? They don’t stop at a certain age. And add the convenience of always having a snack ready at the right temperature (with no dishes needed afterwords!) for whenever he’s hungry, thirsty, or tired, or falls and needs comfort… Something that eventually will stop without intervention.. Using a pacifier when the child is 2-3 years is commonly accepted, but using what this plastic thing is made to imitate, is suddenly something many people find to be a strange thing to do..”
Women in the Wild stands in solidarity with the women of Norway, and mothers everywhere , to end harassment toward mothers that choose to nurse beyond infancy . We believe, as do the lovely mothers of Norway, that the multitude of benefits that breastfeeding provides, don’t have an expiration date. Nursing, and weaning , are personal decisions that should be left up to individual mothers and children.