The Beauty of Breastfeeding in South America

I vividly remember my first experience with breastfeeding in South America.

Kevin and I had just arrived in Paraguay to begin our 27-month service with the Peace Corps.

We had 4 suitcases, 2 duffel bags and 2 over-sized backpacks. We were standing in front of our beautiful Paraguayan host family, consisting of 7 adults and 6 children.

We began greeting each family member with a traditional kiss on the left and right cheek. The family was seated in a long circle, joyful as we made our way towards them.

As I greeted the lovely Abuela (Grandma) of the household, I noticed a younger woman breastfeeding a newborn baby. I remember smiling thinking how wonderful it was that she could openly feed her child without any reservations.

Then my mind shifted to Kevin, I wondered how he would react to this ample bosom being in his face as he greeted the woman with a kiss on each cheek.

He blushed slightly but greeted her like a true gentleman.

It was a humbling moment.

I find it incredibly beautiful that mothers can “free the nipple” anywhere in South America. It is part of the cultural norm, nursing is not sexualized or seen as inappropriate.

I cherish the fact that I was able to raise my children in an environment where open breastfeeding is ingrained into the way of life.

The South American sentiment on breastfeeding is quite the opposite from what I experienced in the U.S.

“Cover Up” was the prevalent motto in the States.

I visited the U.S. on separate occasions when each of my children were infants.

I remember how disheartening it was that openly breastfeeding in public was not common and to many seen as inappropriate.

I had spent months nursing freely and now I was having reservations and feeling uneasy when having to nurse in public.

Even my family encouraged me to use a “nursing cover” in public or directed me to the “designated breastfeeding areas”, really??

The stigma in the U.S. around nursing in public seems so backwards.

I understand that breasts represent sexuality, but we must learn to embrace and acknowledge their ability to provide life.

I remember the exact moment both of my boys latched for the first time.

Leo took about 3 days of crying and varying positions, Gabe latched within the first hour.

I’ll never forget that feeling, it was the beginning of our lifelong mother-son bond.

In South America there is a clear distinction between breasts in the sexual form and breasts in their feeding form. I regularly breastfeed in front of men and not once did I feel ogling eyes or unwanted attention.

It is a distinction instilled into children at a young age.

Within the first few months of having Leo in Paraguay, we attended a birthday party in our community, and I was breastfeeding Leo on a chair.

While seated, a 5-year-old girl came up to me and asked in Spanish “how is breastfeeding going. Is your baby latching on well?”. I looked at her with the biggest smile. I was so amazed and humbled to witness such a sweet, considerate question from such a young child.

It was then I realized that our environment determines our comfort level with breastfeeding.

While living in Paraguay and now in Ecuador, I’ve witnessed countless mothers openly breastfeed without blinking an eye or analyzing their surroundings.

They don’t have to worry about gazing eyes and there are no feelings of embarrassment or shame. It is as natural as whipping out a bottle.

Even the street scenery in South America embraces the natural force of breastfeeding. There is a statue located in a small park in our town, it portrays a mother feeding a young child.

The statue elicits no feelings of sexuality but rather illustrates the beauty of the unbreakable bond between a mother and child.

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for all able mothers to breastfeed. Each woman is entitled to make their own choices in relation to raising their child, but what matters most is that they are being nurtured and fed.

What I am advocating for is that we begin to view breastfeeding as “normal”. To separate intimacy and understand fertility, and fully embrace the beauty of motherhood.

No woman should be shamed into “covering up”, they should be encouraged to unleash their power to provide life.

In Closing

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