There were balloons, cake, and salgadinhos (little salty snacks). The dads sat on the porch drinking beer and watching the kids bat the balloons around, while the moms took the couches inside.
There were four of us, with babies ranging in age from two weeks to fifteen months. We nursed and chatted about sleep schedules and diapers and how much beer was optimal for increasing milk production.
But I had also heard the stories about how Nestle had infiltrated South America with its insidious formula campaigns.
Overall, I’ve been impressed by the level of acceptance and support for breast-feeding that I’ve seen.
Pretty much every mother that I’ve met here has breast-fed. It’s completely accepted in public places, and not uncommon to see other mothers nursing their babies in restaurants or at the beach.
(I have heard from friends, though, that pediatricians tend to push formula.)
There also seems to be less of a class distinction here than in the States, where poor women breast-feed at much lower rates than their wealthier, more educated counterparts, especially in terms of rates with which breast-feeding is initiated.
Brazil has a 93 percent initiation rate for nursing, compared with 73 percent for the U.S. (and the numbers are lower for poor women).
By four to six months, the two countries are nearly equal, with Brazil at 29 percent, and the U.S. at 33. (Although for college-educated women in the U.S., the rate is 53 percent.)
Is there a class divide in breast-feeding rates once women return to work, as there is in the U.S.?
No doubt. I’ve been able to pump, and exclusively breast-feed, partly because I have a pump, storage bags, and a private space at work, and, most importantly, the flexibility to work part-time.
Although I also think the culture of pumping has not really infiltrated here, as it has among educated women in the U.S., and without the physical bonding that nursing involves, many women would just as soon give formula.
Perhaps this is why the overall rate drops so drastically at the 4- to 6-month mark, along with the sanction of formula-happy doctors.
Our nanny nurses her six-month old, though she got the all-clear from her pediatrician to feed him solids at four months old, at which point she went back to work. Since then, she nurses only at nights and on weekends.
While I would gladly support her if she chose to pump, I understand why she wouldn’t want to, or feel that it’s a viable possibility.
What would she do with my baby while she pumped? Not to mention the supplies, the hassle of transporting the milk on the bus, and the time it would take. (I’d be happy to have her take the time, but knowing her, she’d simply stay later rather than leave anything unfinished.)
The Brazilian government makes at least some effort to encourage breast-feeding. All women (anyone who is lawfully employed, including, yes, nannies and housekeepers) are entitled to four months paid maternity leave, with the option of extending it to six months.
Guess how much U.S. mandates? None!
What do you think?
What are your experiences with breast-feeding in Brazil, or elsewhere?
A published poet, Ph.D. dropout, and former Peace Corps volunteer, The Golden Papaya makes her home in a small patch of coconut palms and blue chlorinated calm, surrounded by walls edged with broken glass, between the Archdiocese of Salvador and the stench of burning trash, between the Bay of All Saints and the Coconut Road, between homesickness and awe, between the mystical dunes of Abaeté and the Atlantic Ocean.