Breast is NOT best, if you live in France

It’s not the first time I have written about my struggles of breastfeeding in France. I’ve been told repeatedly by medical practioners to stop breastfeeding and that it’s “abnormal” for my baby to NOT take a bottle. Today, I was sent the article “In France, breast is definitely not best” published in yesterday’s Guardian. The article highlights how breastfeeding in France is frowned upon, I wish I could say the article was untrue or unfair but in reality it is true. All true.

France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the western world. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA (via www.guardian.co.uk)

I urge you to read the article but if you don’t have time I’ll take some of the more poignant parts that’s ring true and give you my take on it (since you are reading this I guess that’s what you want after all!)

Everyone, however, knows the dangers of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding destroys lives. It starts by robbing women of their most powerful weapons of seduction, then their style and then their feminine mystery.

Breasts are very important in France – I have never, ever, in all my life (even after living in the Middle East) seen so many lingerie shops – beautiful and expensive lingerie is abundant in France. I am even told that many women collect lingerie yet when it comes to finding a good nursing bra I had to look abroad which makes it painfully clear that breasts are to be beautifully adorned in the finest silks and lace, both of which cannot accomodate a suckling baby.

women must beat back their babies with bottles of formula milk and rigid feeding regimes if they are to retain their independence and their sex lives. You won’t be in the least surprised to learn that breastfeeding, like so many other grave threats to civilisation, was invented in America.

There is this crazy fear that breastfeeding will make you a “slave” to your baby. How on earth can you live your life with this parasite that seeks to drain every last drop of your soul, being and femininity?  Urrr … firstly, breastfeeding is not like that and secondly, how does breastfeeding make you unfeminine?  I was asked repeatedly if breastfeeding was making me excessively tired and if I really wanted to carry on seeing as I was still hanging on to my baby weight months after delivery – surely I wanted to wean and go on a French diet of coffee and cigarrettes and regain my svelte silhouette (which just FYI was never really that svelte to start with). Didn’t I want to leave my baby to go and do something better with my time? Actually no I didn’t, not on a regular basis – this shocked people – why would I want to spend ALL my time with my baby? Scheduling appears to be very important to the French so breastfeeding on demand was akin to a crime against my being – I shrugged, I guess I am a “slave” to my baby but I’m happy …

the number of French mothers still breastfeeding after six months is so negligible that it doesn’t even make the graph. Frankly, as my partner and I discovered, getting a mother out of a French maternity ward while she is still breastfeeding is something of a miracle.

This is a very sad but true statistic. I gave birth in a private clinic where there was a lactation consultant on call 24/7 yet I was the only mother breastfeeding on the corridor of 10. Even when I asked for help from my independent midwife once I was home she shrugged her shoulders and said maybe I should try a bottle. It wasn’t until MONTHS later that I found that La Leche League operate in France, but sadly for me my French wasn’t up to speed to benefit from the meetings – later I found a leader an hour away who spoke English and found the support I so desperately craved. I know if I hadn’t been so determined and stubborn I would have undoubtedly failed.

She will get her perinea retrained to return her to peak sexual performance – a wonderful French tradition that is actually about preventing incontinence, and which the NHS would do well to copy

Ahhh “rééducation périnéale” something that horrified me when I first learned of it during my pregnancy. I leapt on to Facebook to find an old school friend who I’d not spoken to in  almost 2 decades but I knew who’d had a baby in France recently and I asked about it. Nothing quite like pregnancy and childbirth to break down social norms and dive in to a conversation about your nether regions! She replied “It’s not very sexy but you HAVE to do it. They insert this thing into you, its connected to a machine and it makes all the muscles work again. Your husband will thank you for it” … OK as a first time mum to be I was mortified – what is this crazy thing? I jumped on the internet and found no record of it anywhere in the world other than France. Fast forward to my 6 week check up post delivery and I was prescribed 10 sessions with a physiotherapist plus a prescription to pick up my, umm … well, probe is probably the best way to describe it. Off I go to my appointment and its basically kegels on speed with a screen to track your progress – you have sets of 10 umm … squeezes and then you have a bit of electro-stimulation to make the muscles work harder. Yikes. Not really something you want to talk about but I am the first to say it’s excellent aftercare. They say its to ward off incontinence but it’s not the real objective – it’s to get your sexual prowess back as soon as possible. THAT is the focus. PLUS it’s free completely 100% free – making it more important under the healthcare system than chemotherapy or the flu vaccine!  The physiotherapist, who’s sole responsibility was to get women’s pelvic floors up to speed was mortified when I went one day with BiP who was hungry as usual so I fed her – “breastfeeding! Stil? But she is almost 3 months old!!!”

So yes, sadly, if you breastfeed in France you do so at your own risk. You will be asked if your husband is ok with it – or if you are a foreigner like me it will be chalked down to the fact that you are obviously not French.  BUT if you really do want to you can, you will and it will be great!

 

 

 

47 Responses to Breast is NOT best, if you live in France

  1. So Breastfeeding was invented in America??? wow that seems so strange since I am pretty sure it was around long before anyone actually lived in America.

    You are doing a great job and BiP is a very lucky baby to have a mother who is obviously not French.

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Thank you so much Deborah! Our girlies are both lucky 🙂

  2. WOW. I had NO idea – In fact, I think I naturally assume that everywhere other than the U.S. is more tolerant of breastfeeding than ‘we’ are. Oregon is ranked second for breastfeeding-friendly states but most of the people I know didn’t breastfeed. It’s popular in crunchier circles but everyone else gives up – Not necessarily by fault of their own, but it’s true. I know of ONE woman my age in real life who breastfed to a year. A couple others made it to three months. Most people “couldn’t make enough milk” within the first weeks. I’m not sure how many people realize how rare it is to truly not make enough milk but it surely is taboo to say that to a mother. I have never heard breastfeeding criticized but you definitely cannot ever publicly announce that breastfeeding is BETTER than formula.

    As far as sexuality, American women could probably take something from the French as wives are rarely seen as that sensual within their marriages. Although the idea that breasts’ primary purpose is for anything other than babies is insane. Otherwise we would all have huge knockers for men!

    Also, how can it say that breastfeeding was “invented” in America?

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Yes, didn’t you know? … breastfeeding was invented in America! I actually had midwives, who in our breastfeeding class, talk to us about the crazy women in America and Canada who breastfeed for 3 years ! *faint* AND some very crazy ones even breastfeed 2 babies of different ages (tandem feed)…!!! The gasps around the room made me laugh – annoyingly my French wasn’t good enough to speak my mind – incredibly annoying! Well, not that it would have made any difference as my opinion would have been chalked down to me being a foreigner!

      Big BOOBIES! Hahaha! The world is crazy … boobs are for titty bars … to be clad in lace and silk … ok, those boobs do look better than saggy breastfeeding boobs with cracked nipples but [REALITY CHECK] those stretch marks came from pregnancy not breastfeeding! There certainly is a warped view on what boobies should look like!

      Having not enough milk, bad milk etc is a big deal – there seem to be A LOT of women who suffer with this condition – medical research must have it wrong when they say this problem only affects 2% of mothers. I would prefer it if mothers just told the truth about why they didn’t breastfeed – it’s their choice. There always seems to be a losing battle between BF mama’s who have to justify their right to breastfeed and FF mama’s who feel they have to defend their position – I don’t care. Feed your baby how you like but let me breastfeed in peace!

      • You are so rude to say most women don’t breast feed because it is their choice. I cry and struggle to pump even a few ounces for my son and couldn’t produce enough for my daughter. There are FB groups dedicated to women like me have low supply or IGT. What’s that you ask? Insufficient glandular tissue.

        It’s great for you to have a great supply and can make breast feeding work, but shame on you for saying most women “give up” because it’s our choice. It’s not our choice. We are heartbroken. Isn’t motherhood hard enough without all the judgment… From other mothers!?!?!?!

        • Thank you for saying this! I so desperately wanted to bf, I tried everything. I met with a many lactation consultants and literally cried for weeks. Between my baby not sustaining a latch and me, consequently, not producing enough milk my whole bf experience has been nothing but a struggle. I still pump around the clock just for a few ounces of milk to give to my baby. Anyone who claims bf is a choice and anyone can do it is just so wrong. It wasn’t a choice for me and I will always remain heartbroken about it.

  3. I found that people were supportive for the first 6 weeks or so. After that, you turn into some sort of a martyr. I gave up telling the Dr that she is breastfeed, unless he specifically asks, but even that he stopped around 3 month or so, I assume he just thought she was on formula…

    That said, at the hospital, she wouldn’t latch and I had a fabulous IBCLC that came and helped us, and continued to see us at home (for free) until she was about 2 weeks old. Without her there is no way we would have perservered. She still emails me from time to time to see how things are going. While most medical professionals lift eyebrows at anyone nursing beyond the first few weeks, my friend that is the most supportive is a nurse.

    Like you, most of the people I know either had 0 interest in breastfeeding so didn’t even try, or “didn’t have enough milk”. My above mentioned nurse friend nursed her baby until she went back to work. The whole culture surrounding it is really strange and I really like the Guardian article, I find that it hits the nail on the head regarding these things!!

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Thanks for your comment – yes, you are so right! I had the same experience minus the help from a IBCLC (I’m jealous of that!)
      In reality it’s women who seem shocked at breastfeeding past 3 months. It’s great you had support even if it was sparse. My pediatrician is totally uninterested in breastfeeding – she openly admitted that she doesn’t care if I breastfeed or not. All the nutrition handouts she has are all for bottle fed babies so are totally irrelevant to me so I make paper airplanes out of them for BiP! But its so true that either doctors tell you to stop because you are a freak for doing something so repugnant for so long OR they are totally uninterested.

      It’s true that attitude to breastfeeding really is a cultural thing – I’ve found it hard to explain it to people abroad and the article really hit the nail on the head.

  4. Wow, and I thought it was hard bf’ing here in the US. Sounds like there’s much more support here. That’s really eye opening.

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Sad isn’t it? I think I personally found it harder as a foreigner. It does seem to be a cultural thing to see breastfeeding as something you do for a few weeks and then get it out of your system. I was told after 3 months of excruciating battles to breastfeed that surely the “mother earth” thing was out of my system and it was time to gain control of my senses and put BiP on the bottle! Sadly a lot of doctors feel the same way. I was give “advice” from a pediatrician to supplement and schedule feeds because BiP was “too big” at 10 days old. He was a moron and I never went back but I feel so sorry for women who obviously take his advice and I am sure he is not alone in his crazy advice.

  5. Antony Manuel says:

    En fait, tout dépend de l’âge du bébé. C’est vrai qu’on verrait d’un œil plutôt dubitatif un enfant de cinq téter le sein 😉
    Mais l’article du Quardian, qui mélange tout, est très exagéré, comme de prétendre qu’en France breast feeding would be regarded as “drinking your own urine”.
    Non mais, où il va lui, faut pas pousser grand-mère dans les orties tout de même !

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Merci, en anglais s.v.p pour les autres.

      I feel the article in Guardian may exaggerate just enough to prove the points it raised.
      I myself have had a very similar experience in France as have my friends who have been both foreigners and French.

  6. That therapy makes me shudder! I’m so confused as to how we Yanks invented breastfeeding… how did people do it centuries ago?

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Yeah, I don’t get how anyone can say breastfeeding was invented by the Americans but I do find it funny how the midwives here use America and Canada as examples of “extreme” breastfeeding!

      The therapy really wasn’t that bad – certainly wasn’t dignified but it does help you recover faster and having spoken to friends who are doctors in the UK it certainly is great preventative treatment for any pelvic floor issues.

  7. I have heard about the “retraining” French women get, but was delighted to hear an actual description of what that entailed. Thanks for sharing the gory details – I’ve always been curious.

    So interesting to read this different perspective. I had my babies in Silicon Valley in California and had the exact opposite experience. I personally had strong pressure both socially and medically to breastfeed until at least six months, although everyone agreed one year was even better (ma belle-mere was the clear exception). Ironically even though it was in line with my personal values and was what I actually did, I felt the environment definitely crossed the line from “support” and became “pressure” which wasn’t positive for a new mom either.

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you “enjoyed” the description of “rééducation périnéale” …!

      I know that nowhere is perfect. I wish that there was more support available here but there isn’t so I go out and find it – since I didn’t have it I can’t see how lots of it would be a bad thing but on the other hand I can imagine it could have been a bit much for a new mummy!

  8. I am so surprised that breastfeeding is so frowned upon in France. I’ve always assumed that breastfeeding was more common in Europe than in America. In general American’s seem more self conscious about their bodies. (Think of ads/commercials in Europe much more risque with nudity than here.) My family is Polish and I don’t know what my mom would have said if I didn’t consider breastfeeding its what everyone does there. I’m glad that your breastfeeding despite the stigma — go you!

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Thanks Marta! I think France has the highest birthrate in Europe but the lowest breastfeeding one. There are babies everywhere but I think I have seen 5 women in the last year nurse in public. No one even looks when I NIP and I do it EVERYWHERE without a cover – I don’t even put myself in a corner – the only attention I get is usually smiles from older passers by. It’s only when you tell someone that you are breastfeeding at 6-9-12m that the reactions get out of control!

  9. Did I just read this correctly?????? They are handing out “probes” and prescribing “sessions”……this is very strange…. stranger still is that they do NOT promote breastfeeding! Suddenly I’m sad to be 1/4 french!

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Hahaha Jessica! It’s not really like that – the treatment is actually something the rest of the world should adopt for post-partum therapy. Sexual things aside it is good for warding off urinary incontinence and any pelvic floor related problems. It also helps strengthen the area so that when it comes to any future pregnancies you are in prepared!

      The French DO promote breastfeeding. They say breast is best for a baby but the enthusiasm tends to stop once you leave the maternity which is 4 days for natural delivery, 6 days for a c-section. Everyone does tend to look at you strangely if you breastfeed past 3months. I know some French mama’s who were adamant that they wanted to breastfeed and they did. I think the success of breastfeeding in France is for you to be hell bent on doing it. I feel so sad for those new mothers who have no idea, have no support and just start on bottles because they don’t know any better.

      Don’t be sad to be 1/4 French … there are plenty of awesome French things to be proud of 🙂

  10. don’t worry…the French invented Champagne…therefor I could never dis them….hehehe…

    very glad to know that you were able to finally find support there!

  11. Aaaaargh horrible!!! Didn’t like the French way of living anyway, but now I’m sure never ever to move to France!! Happy in Holland and PROUD to breastfead my girl still – she is one year now! Take care and follow your own (good) feelings!

    Best,
    Edith

  12. Thanks for this very interesting post. I would never have believed that the French culture would be so…just plain weird about breastfeeding. We are moving to France in a few months and my (then) 9 month old will be on he breast still. Forewarned is forearmed! I’ll be prepared to be labelled a “crazy Canadian”!

  13. I couldn’t believe this post – really? in 2011? these attitudes? in Europe?

    wow.

    I’m from another European country and there it’s considered weird (or at least sad) when you don’t breastfeed for close to a year at least – it’s FREE food for the babies, why pay for formula? 🙂

    (I want to get me some of that “rééducation périnéale” though 🙂

    • Ameena Falchetto says:

      It’s really sad how it is in France. I think it should be the norm not the exception.

  14. Glad I found your blog!
    I am an Indian American who made U.S. her home for the past 15 years. Until one month ago, we moved to Belgium – close to your neck of the woods.
    I really had no idea that breasfeeding is frowned upon in France. In Belgium, of what I have experienced, everyone seems casual about me breastfeeding in public. People rarely give stares or have said something. Sometimes I wonder if they do so because they are just being polite.
    Either way, I love my connection with my little ones because of our breastfeeding relation! I love how they find comfort in my breasts to conquer life’s mishaps!

    Awesome post and blog! I will be returning soon!

    • Ameena Falchetto says:

      I do think that France has a very unique view on breastfeeding – I have yet to come across another country that is so weird about it. I even speak to French women who breastfeed who say they get a hard time about it too. Breastfeeding in public is not an issue although I do get funny looks now BiP is a lot bigger.

      Thanks for stopping by! Hope to see you again here soon!

  15. Ummm…seriously??? Nevermind the ludicrosity of this…breastfeeding was invented in America??? Ummmmm, sure. Wow. Good job for persevering!

    • Ameena Falchetto says:

      Great isn’t it? LOL!

  16. i like the thought of the “treatment” I expect it would help a lot. the breast feeding thing makes me laugh though. Here in Canada..the medical field pushes it on new mothers to breast feed..doesn’t matter if those babies are starving because the mothers don’t have enough milk or rich enough milk. and France is opposite. lol I would have done well in France..I either had skim milk or lost it all by the 3rd month. good blog

  17. Breastfeeding was invented in America? Well gee, and here I’ve believed all this time that evolution invented breastfeeding by allowing the existence of mammals!

    I honestly don’t get why so many people believe that a woman nursing a child is in any way in conflict with her sexuality. When I was pregnant, my breasts got HUGE, and I loved it! They hurt like heck the first few months, but man, they looked good in all those cute maternity tops! (Cute and tasteful, of course.) I think the hubby and I had more sex when I was pregnant than we did when trying to make the baby!

    And after the baby was born, it did take several weeks of adjustment before I felt like having sex again, but since I was breastfeeding my breasts were still huge and lovely, and I still loved having the hubby touch them. When you’re feeding your baby it’s not at all a sexual act, it’s a nutritive and nurturing act. When you’re being intimate with your partner, breasts serve a completely different function. Yes, I’m a mom, but I was a wife first, and I never forget that. I play both roles well, I think, but they’re both still ME.

  18. I am suddenly feeling very glad to live in Canada. But then, I guess I’m obviously not French, either. 😉

  19. Stephanie says:

    I just discovered your blog, i’ll be following it now on! I’m American married to a French man, we are living in the Paris region, and my 20 month old daughter was born here. I am still breast feeding, although it’s just morning and night time and the snack or comfort here and there. Thank you for talking about the réeducation périnéale. I was prescribed it but I never went, one because I knew what it would entail and I didn’t want that close minded midwife in my town sticking some thingy in my private area. Two, I was prescribed 20 sessions over 10 days, and I can’t believe the doctor thought I was going to be able to the midwife’s office twice a day (even though I work at home it was going to be a huge hassle. I also refused to place my little baby in gov’t subsidized daycare, so that didn’t help. But that’s a long story for another time). Things are just fine without the réeducation. Even though it wouldn’t be reimbursed any more, it’s still a ton cheaper than typical US medical expense, I might pay for it to prepare for the second baby.
    But I am glad to find this blog and listen and share experiences. It is hard to find other moms who can really understand! We can feel really beaten down by other people in these cultures. Even though I know and meet other baby wearing long term breastfeeding attachment parenting cloth diapering moms, there are still many other people who give you the evil eye for doing something different than what they do or did (a generation or more ago!) France especially is big on conformity and tradition, but they don’t admit it.

    Thank you for your blog, I look forward to reading all your posts!

  20. I think it’s so tragic that France has such a horrible stance on breastfeeding. Good for you for doing what’s best and defending the right of other mom’s to do the same!

    • My French-born baby is 2 months old. I’m American so at least TRYING breastfeeding was a given for me. At the maternity ward all the medical staff treated me like a star! Midwives these days are trying to convince women to breastfeed but it’s true, most French women just aren’t into it. Most women I know never put their baby to the breast even once. I’ve breastfed in public several times and nobody noticed or remarked upon it. People don’t understand about cluster feeding and they don’t get why I have trouble making plans or having dinner parties, because their babies are all on schedules, only eat 5-6 times per 24 hours, and sleep through the night (that’s formula feeding!) I succumbed to combination feeding for a bit and now I’m working my way back to exclusive breastfeeding, but whether it’s breast or bottle, my baby feeds on demand, which isn’t the norm here. I’ve been ashamed to admit to my midwives that I combination feed, because they were so thrilled about exclusive breastfeeding. Formula cans all come with a government sponsored message saying breastmilk is best for your baby and formula should only be used if recommended by your doctor. The first time I bought a can of formula I found that pretty upsetting. I don’t know how that message doesn’t bother other formula feeding moms. The breast is best message certainly exists in my region, women just are ignoring it because they themselves were never breastfed as babies. It’s true loads of women conveniently “don’t have enough milk” or “don’t want to pass their allergies onto baby through their breastmilk.” What I have found is that if I drink a beer and then breastfeed my baby everyone around me acts like it’s child abuse. La Leche League says having one drink and giving breastmilk is far better than giving formula, but the idea that you can never drink at all while breastfeeding also motivates women here to go straight to formula from day 1.

  21. I am a little surprised about This article I was born and raised in France, and now i live the states. I had my 2 kids in the us and i had to ask my mother to send me breastfeeding bras and other items for nursing such as coupelle because i did not find in the us. Plus my mom who lives in France was the one that pushed to breastfeeding 100% she had 3 kids and all breastfed. I breastfed my first child until 1 year old and people in the states were looking at me as if i was doing something bad. If anything i feel that in france they are more open minded about nursing than in the US. I only got 2 months maternity leave!! how can i breastfeed my child…. With so little time off (obviously i quit) but at least in france you get enough maternity leave to bond with your child and nurse him too. In the US the mentality is starting to change about nursing. I believe that nursing should be made mandatory! But the big companies that produce baby formula will never allow it!

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Statistically France has the lowest rate of breastfeeding (yet the highest birth rate) in Europe. My own experience was that I had to defend my choice – pediatricians didn’t seem that interested in whether or not you breastfed. Obviously I met French women who were breastfeeding for years and there are obviously exceptions. The US does have a funny relationship with what women should do with their breasts though!

      BTW – would you like to take part in the Global differences series? I love having French mamas share their stories!

  22. I had my first child in France a year ago and she is still breastfeeding. I had great support breastfeeding in the hospital and I was told to feed on demand when we left. I even got the advice to try feeding from one boob per feed as I had a raging oversupply. No paediatrician or gynaecologist has ever advised me to wean her. And while they did need to dig out the guidelines for breastfed babies at the daycare she now goes to two days per week, they didn’t tell me to switch to formula. This might have to do with the fact that we live near Paris, but I haven’t encountered this anti-breastfeeding culture you write about.

  23. I found your blog while doing an Internet search for casual milk sharing networks among breastfeeding mothers in Paris. I will be in Paris for a week this spring and may pump while away from my 18 month old daughter (who still breastfeeds, yes!). Looks like this may be a futile search…

  24. […] those who can should make every effort to do so.  I was absolutely horrified when I read what ‘Mummy in Provence’ had to say about her experiences. Even if the subject doesn’t concern you, the attitude of the […]

  25. I am a little offended by this article. I am sorry your experience with breastfeeding in France wasn’t the best but it was your experience. I know plenty of French moms who breastfeed including my sister. They had no problem, didn’t get frowned upon and was encouraged to breastfeed. I am French myself although I live in the US and I have found breastfeeding being done a lot more easily in France than here by my sister’s account. Also she was given a much longer parental leave than she would have ever gotten here in the US. Yes France has a lower rate of breastfeeding mom compared to its birthrate but that is for other reason than breastfeeding being frowned upon. Maybe your experience was such because of the language barrier? But either way that is not a generalization. And if you really wanted to find out about breastfeeding in France you should probably talk to breastfeeding French moms…

    • I support you. Health care personals actually prefer you to exclusively breast feed than formula. I know a lot of mums who actually breast feed. I live in france and I exclusively breast feed my baby.

  26. We are just about to buy in France. I still breastfeed my 15 month old son, and don’t really see myself stopping, unless he weans himself, until around 18 months when we will reassess. This attitude scares me a bit. It sounds very selfish actually that one would put the look of their silhouette in front of their child’s health. It’s actually putting me off. We live in Holland, I don’t love it here and find it a cold and unempathic race, and did love living in France 20 years ago, but that was without kids. Am I right to be scared?

  27. Im in france now without my 10mo baby, when i asked for nursing room to express milk they asked me so many question, looks like i am weird and stranger, abt to cry😭

    • Ameena GORTON says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen a nursing room in France to be honest. Hugs mama x

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