Differing Cultural Norms: Adam’s Experience with Breastfeeding in Mongolia

I came to Mongolia to learn and be open to new experiences. I just wasn’t prepared for how open the Mongolian people would be with me.

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Anyone who has worked with me at the hospital knows that I am a magnet for awkward breastfeeding situations. We provide signs for mothers to place on their door when they are feeding or pumping to protect their privacy but sometimes they forget to use them. I seem to have a knack for walking in on breastfeeding mothers (awkward) and staff alike (really awkward). Then there was the night that I worked with all young single female nurses who didn’t have any kids. My wife had breastfed our kids, so despite being the only guy on the nursing unit, I was the nurse with the most breastfeeding experience. I had to teach the new mom how to use the hospital’s breast pump (super awkward).

While in Mongolia, everywhere I turned I saw mothers breastfeeding (awkward). I’m not talking about mothers sitting in a corner with a specially designed cover up. I’m talking about sitting on a bench waiting for the bus with her top pulled up, sitting in the crowded hospital waiting room with her top pulled down, and even the mother stretched out over the bed to feed her baby in the PICU. I always diverted my eyes or walked away to protect their privacy but they didn’t even seem to notice my presence. As I looked around, no one else seemed to be paying attention either. It was as if the awkwardness regarding breastfeeding disappeared. The most extreme example happened when I walked through the emergency room and was greeted by a giant nipple on the video screen. The translator said it was a video for teaching new mothers tips on breastfeeding. There’s no way this type of video would be shown in a public place in the US.

My wife is currently breastfeeding our third child and has become so excited about the breastfeeding process that she’s been checking out breastfeeding books from the library. I knew she had officially become obsessed when I found her reading a college clinical text book about lactation. She found an AWESOME article that explains the breastfeeding situation in Mongolia. This author can explain better than I could ever hope to: Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan

The nurses tell me that in Mongolia mothers truly understand the importance of breastfeeding and the hospital policies reflect this. The PICU has limited visitation hours but allows mothers to be at the bedside every 3 hours to breastfeed. They have breast pumps in the NICU, and I even saw a mom self expressing into a coffee cup when a pump wasn’t available.

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I’ve become much more comfortable with mothers openly breastfeeding. I even became brave enough to ask my translator to ask a breastfeeding mom if I could take a photo of her breastfeeding. She didn’t mind one bit. Thanks to these Mongolian mothers, I’ve learned that being in the presence of moms giving their babies the healthiest start to life possible through breast milk shouldn’t be awkward at all.

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4 Comments

  1. Yeah! for no more awkwardness!

    Reply
  2. Grace

     /  August 31, 2013

    I too grew up in a place where it is customary for moms to breast feed openly. Good to see this practice embraced the way it is by the Mongolian people.

    Reply
  3. Grace

     /  August 31, 2013

    by the Mongols rather

    Reply
  4. Mogi

     /  September 3, 2013

    Mongolians*

    Reply

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