Breastfeeding in Italy

As an American Italian Enthusiast, one of my goals for my blog is to write about modern cultural differences between Italy and the United States.  Every time I go to Italy, I discover something new that Americans would acknowledge as different – sometimes comparatively worse, sometimes comparatively better.  One difference, which in my opinion is superior, is the way women approach breastfeeding in Italy.

Occasionally in the United States, I see women breastfeeding in public, and when I do, they are always covered with a blanket.  In fact, I am not sure I ever saw a woman breastfeeding in a public place in the United States with her breast uncovered.  In Italy, however, breastfeeding in public places, uncovered, seems commonplace (or at least significantly more common than in the United States).  This summer alone I must have seen at least 10 women in Italy overtly breastfeeding in public, with their breast out in the open, with no shame, shyness or modesty whatsoever.

In preparation for writing this article, I looked online to see what other Americans have written on the subject.  It is a controversial issue apparently.  I found several sites that encourage public breastfeeding, and surprisingly I found sites discouraging the act entirely, even if the mother covers herself with a blanket.  Most disturbing, I discovered an article written by the Office of the Surgeon General which found that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public.  According to the article, many women are embarrassed to breastfeed in public because the majority of people believe it to be taboo.  The article stated, “[e]mbarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and is closely related to disapproval of breastfeeding in public.”  Fortunately in Italy, this does not seem to be the case.

Breastfeeding Leo
My wife breastfeeding our son, Leonardo, at Ristorante Paoli, in Florence, Italy (Summer 2017)
Breastfeeding Leo
My wife breastfeeding our son, Leonardo, in the main square of Leuca, Italy (Summer 2017)

In Italy, mothers breastfeed in public unabashedly.  It is worth noting that there obviously are Italian women who prefer breastfeeding in private only; however, I am speaking of general cultural differences.  Italy is not burdened with a societal stigma that disapproves of public breastfeeding.  To the contrary, I think women in Italy breastfeed in public simply because their babies are hungry, without giving much thought as to their surroundings.  They believe breastfeeding to be natural and beautiful, and something that should not be hidden from the world.

Breastfeeding is not only revered by modern day Italians.  Going back in history, we find many renaissance paintings of mothers breastfeeding, including the “Madonna Litta” painting by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Baby Jesus.  Additionally, as Italy is predominantly a Catholic country, Italians recognize that Pope Francis himself is a supporter of public breastfeeding.  As the Huffington Post reported, while baptizing children in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope stated to mothers of crying babies, “[y]ou mothers, go ahead and breastfeed, without fear.  Just like the Virgin Mary nursed Jesus.”

Virgin Mary Breastfeeding
Leonardo Da Vinci's 15th century painting titled, "Madonna Litta" depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Baby Jesus.

I think we, as Italian Enthusiasts, need to address the stigma placed on public breastfeeding in the United States.  Women need to breastfeed in public more, and we need to voice our acceptance of public breastfeeding on public forums.  For those of you who wish to post photos breastfeeding, you can do so on my Facebook page or on Instagram: #italianenthusiast

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Comments

  1. Bellissimi, mamma e bimbo. naturale. bravi!

  2. Cosa naturalissima e molto bella !

  3. Ciao Maurizio tu sei troppo coretto <3 Viva Italia

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