Where can you breastfeed as an expat mom? Global rights and restrictions

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Published on 2024-05-28 at 14:00 by Estelle
When living abroad and planning to have a child, many factors come into play: healthcare, maternity support, parental leave, daycare, and more. This wonderful life event requires good organization, especially when you're an expat. One important aspect to consider (if you choose to) is breastfeeding, particularly in public spaces. While natural, breastfeeding can be controversial, heavily criticized, discouraged, or even banned in some countries.

Which countries allow public breastfeeding?

Among the countries that allow and generally accept public breastfeeding are:

United States: Breastfeeding is protected by law in all 50 states, with many having specific laws ensuring mothers' rights to breastfeed wherever they wish.

Canada: Like its neighbor, public breastfeeding is protected by law, allowing mothers to breastfeed anywhere.

United Kingdom: Public breastfeeding is completely legal and generally well-accepted.

Australia: Protected by law in all states, public breastfeeding is widely accepted.

Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland): Public breastfeeding is broadly accepted and supported in these countries.

New Zealand: Public breastfeeding is protected by law and socially accepted.

Western European countries: Generally, breastfeeding is legally protected and accepted (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, etc.).

China: Public breastfeeding is generally accepted and socially tolerated, though there are no specific laws banning or permitting it.

While these countries legally allow public breastfeeding, some women still face criticism. This act can sometimes be seen as inappropriate. Although often well accepted, mothers might encounter stares and comments like "Could you do that elsewhere?" or be asked to leave restaurants or go to the restroom to feed their baby, even in countries where the law protects their rights.

Which countries prohibit or restrict public breastfeeding?

The following countries prohibit or have restrictive attitudes toward public breastfeeding:.

Some Middle Eastern countries: Public breastfeeding can be deemed inappropriate and prohibited, primarily for religious reasons, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Maldives: While not legally banned, public breastfeeding is recommended to be done discreetly due to the dominant influence of Islam.

Southeast Asia: Attitudes toward public breastfeeding vary, with no specific laws in some countries, so it's advisable to understand local practices and culture to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Eastern Europe: Public breastfeeding attitudes vary, with no strict bans, but in countries like Russia, public breastfeeding can be perceived and accepted differently in urban versus rural areas.

Expat public breastfeeding experience: Marine's story

Marine, a French expat mum in Italy, shares her breastfeeding experience in Italy and France: "Before discussing public spaces, I want to share my experience with breastfeeding in Italy. In Milan, particularly at the hospital where I gave birth, I was well-prepared and saw a lactation consultant weekly to ensure the baby was feeding well and to receive moral support, which is crucial for new mothers." According to her, maternity nurses were very supportive during the initial breastfeeding attempts. "Women in Italy receive significant support and are even encouraged to breastfeed rather than use bottles, which were rarely mentioned."

Overall, Marine's experience with public breastfeeding has been positive: "I breastfed my child wherever I wanted without hiding or feeling embarrassed, in buses, trams, parks, restaurants... Most reactions were kind, with tender smiles and approval. However, occasionally, particularly from older people, I noticed stares. In France, I didn't encounter strange looks or negative comments. However, I was often asked, 'When do you plan to stop breastfeeding?' when my baby was just four months old."

While public breastfeeding is becoming more accepted, it still faces criticism or prohibition in some religious and conservative countries. Unfortunately, some mothers still encounter negative experiences, even in generally accepting countries. 

However, attitudes are evolving, and women can generally feel free to feed their children without constraints or derogatory remarks.