Pin It
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Breasts are for Babies? Perceptions of Breastfeeding in Italy

By
breastfeeding-perceptionsRoxana - Fotolia.com

Before the seventies, breastfeeding was the norm in Italy. All babies were breastfed either by their mothers, even though in some cases these women were too poor to have a good enough diet to feed their babies, or by other mothers when the mother had to return to work in the country. Babies who were breastfed by other mothers were considered to be something like step-children to these women, and they called these wet nurses “Mamma Filomena,” “Mamma Maria,” etc., whereas their moms were just called “Mamma.”

 

 

The feminist revolution paralleled the invasion of the first multinational companies shortly after 1968 and in the years following. This combination was deadly for breastfeeding in Italy. Nursing began to be regarded as backwards, old fashioned and something an educated woman would not choose. Economic differences are very strong between northern, central and southern Italy and as a result, perceptions around breastfeeding and birth varied regionally. Because Northern Italy is wealthier and more industrial than the South, this anti-breastfeeding wave spread first in the North.

 

 

Doctors exacerbated erroneous perceptions around breastfeeding and started spreading misinformation about its’ alleged negative effects on maternal health, i.e., the mothers’ vision would decrease, their teeth would decay and they would gain weight. Simultaneously, giving birth was becoming a very medical procedure, especially in the North. This led Italy to have a caesarean section rate of 40% today. Since the process has now peaked in the North, we are now starting to return to natural births. In the South however, where medical intervention arrived later, caesareans are now flourishing at 60% to 80% in some parts.

 

 

Although I was born in Central Italy in 1970, where breastfeeding was the norm, my family lived in the North, and my mother tells me she stopped nursing after five to six months because she felt she had done more than enough. The pressure you felt about how backwards you were by nursing was such that getting to even five months was a lot—probably like breastfeeding a toddler today. I have met very few people my age, born in the North, who were breastfed at all. In the hospital, doctors told midwives to wrap the mothers’ breasts and administer a medicine to interrupt milk production. When women tell you about that experience and see you nursing, you can tell it hurts somewhere in the bottom of their hearts.

 

 

I don’t know when things picked up again with breastfeeding, but today breastfeeding in public in Italy is not as problematic as it is in the U.S. It is unlikely that you are asked to stop breastfeeding in the airplane, in a train or in a restaurant. However, episodes are beginning to arise. Last winter a mother was in a bar where she was having a breakfast cappuccino (bars in Italy are traditionally where you drink cappuccino in the morning) and the owner asked her to nurse outside. This story appeared all over the television and newspapers and everyone condemned the bar owner. But this was perhaps the result of only a few women calling the press to express their opinions, while many others kept silent and swallowed their uneasiness.

 

 

An older person generally smiles with approval when they see you nursing in the bus and in front of the school, but Italian moms on the blogs are reporting increased episodes of disapproving looks or distasteful comments by younger people. One mother stated that she was asked to nurse her two-year-old toddler elsewhere during the nursery school party “because it would disturb other babies.” It was clear that the one being disturbed was the teacher and not the babies who gathered round, very curious to find out what their little friend was doing so close to her mother.

 

 

The funny, or even annoying, part is that Italy is a country where topless sun bathing is common in almost any beach and in many pools. My own mother used to sunbathe topless some 20 years ago, when she already had four kids. Naked breasts are often seen on TV and at dinner-time and are used to advertise deodorants, bottled waters, soaps and what not. Yet breastfeeding is looked upon more maliciously than breasts and butts in super skimpy bikinis in TV shows for the whole family. As our society becomes more and more sex oriented, where sex is used to increase sales and garner an audience, people forget that primary purpose of breasts is for babies’ nourishment rather than sexual objects.

© 2011 – 2013, Barbara Siliquini. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Circumcision Wars

She fought her Turkish in-laws on it--did she succeed?

A Different World: No Longer Brown in White America

Is it racist to not want to raise your kids in white America?

Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan

Colleague drank your breast milk from the work fridge again? Tales of breastfeeding in Mongolia

Birth, Loss and In Between

Life after devastation

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Barbara is the mother of Aylin 8, Samuel 6 and Giada 3, and wife of Giuseppe (nickname Jay). Before getting married, she lived in Rome, Turkey, U.K, U.S., and she now lives in Milan with her family. After Giada was born, she quit her job as a director in the telecommunications industry, and started the web tv and web magazine for parents www.GenitoriChannel.it. She is also President of the Association Partonaturale (Natural Birth) and an activist of natural birth. She is very passionate about birth, breastfeeding and natural parenting, all of which is conveyed in the Genitori Channel.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsAn American in Rome - Breastfeeding Today   |  Thursday, 12 May 2016 at 6:03 am

    […] B. Breasts are for Babies? Perceptions of Breastfeeding in Italy. In Culture Parent June […]









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!
[easy_sign_up phone="0"]

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@Daniela You speak BS, you have never seen Franconia, or you're a Franconian girl. In the second case, I know that no intellectual conversation could be made with Franconian people, because you'r...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Global Parenting