Since it’s World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I would tell you a little about attitudes toward breastfeeding here in Bulgaria. Put simply, attitudes toward breastfeeding in Bulgaria are very mixed.
I have a toddler on the milk. I never planned to be a long term breastfeeder, it just happened. OK, it happened twice, which means I am either doing something right or wrong as my efforts to wean have been pretty inconsistent both times. When I the baby and I are sitting with other women in the village, I often let her nurse while we’re sitting.
The babas couldn’t be more encouraging. If they raised their children in the rural village, they often brag about how long they nursed their children, how much milk they had and they share pieces of nursing gossip. My husbands paternal grandmother, for example, nursed both her own son and his cousin for three years because the cousin’s mother had so many children and was so tired, she just wasn’t up to doing it herself.
“And he was a big strong man,” the cousin’s widow told me.
When I talk with women of my own generation, they don’t brag. Many of them have to get back to work or to their studies when their babies are very young and nursing isn’t a big art of their lives. One to six months or not at all are all answers I have heard. My sister-in-law was congratulated by her children’s doctor when she was still breastfeeding when her daughter was seven months-old. Interesting, my sister-in-law wanted to breastfeed long term, but her milk just dried up after about nine months.
Last year, I watched a nurse-in at the Bulgarian legislator conducted by the La Leche League of Bulgaria on the news. Women were working directly to change attitudes here.
They may not need to start with the public. They might need to start with the medical profession. When our dog bit me, I had to get to the emergency room here in Lovech for a shot. I got quick and excellent care, but because the baby was with me, the attending doctor felt she had to comment on the baby’s health. She was shocked to hear I was still breastfeeding my seven month-old every three hours. She said that I should be giving her juice, soup, popara (a local baby cereal) and other things during the fourth month.
Later that week, I met a Romany mother with three daughters ages two, one and 3 months in the playground. The Romany minority, also known as Gypsies, are hated and persecuted here. Not all of them are poor, not all of them live in rough encampments, not all of them are unemployed and not all of them have large families. The woman I spoke to, however, was all of those things. She was giving her little baby a bottle of banana juice. To make it worse, there was a problem with the water in Lovech that week and tap water had to be boiled before it could be used to drink or prepare food.
That poor woman had been denied the cost-saving benefits of breastfeeding. She was also being denied the mild birth control benefits. Her child was being denied the health benefits of nursing.
The worst thing? It was probably as a result of medical advice.