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Breastfeeding in Bangkok

by Shelly Rivoli

This post is in honor of World Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

So as you can see, I’m not actually breastfeeding at the moment this photo was snapped, though I desperately wanted to be. It pretty clearly captures the challenge I was having this day, finding a quiet place to sit down and nurse my baby while visiting the large and majestic Royal Palace with Wat Phrakaew in Bangkok. It was hot. Really hot. There were few places to sit down, let alone places where you wouldn’t be so visible as to draw a large crowd of some of Earth’s most baby-loving people, the Thais. With a fair-skinned, strawberry blond baby, in tow, we especially stood out.

Well-meaning strangers wanted, and even needed, to see this child, from the orange-robed monks leaving the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to the janitor sweeping the back corridor. They had songs she apparently needed to hear, she had feet that apparently needed to be tickled. We had about 4 to 6 hours worth of exploring to do at the compound, and the normally simple act of feeding my baby became an exhausting quest to escape these extremely friendly people. She was 7 months old, highly distractible and, as you might guess, increasingly fussy.

As time went by and repeat attempts were made, including while leaning against a less-than-comfortable cement wall, I began to suspect I was a little too discrete in my method. As soon as she’d latch on, someone would approach us smiling and assuming that the baby was asleep, hoping to get a look at her. This was awkward. When visiting other people’s countries, I always try to be a good guest. I would no more flash the goods than wear shoes into someone’s house, or visit their temples with bare shoulders.

Still, it became clear to me that, as fascinated as these people were by the Western baby, it was not even on the radar that I might be trying to breastfeed. I took this up with a couple of ladies who worked at our hotel and wanted to talk babies, and again later when I had another mom-to-mom discussion as we traveled. They were shocked to learn that I, an American woman who could afford to travel the world, would choose to breastfeed my baby.

I am currently breastfeeding my third baby, and I know that overall breastfeeding has greatly simplified our travels with babies. Thanks to the nifty magic of white blood cells getting transferred from me to my babies through the milk, it has also provided extra protection for my children against viruses I’ve been exposed to along the way—something of a comfort for anyone who has to travel with their baby in flu season. As we have traveled in extreme heat, it’s also been reassuring to know that my milk is better and more easily absorbed by my baby than even water would be.

I have been impressed with how breastfeeding awareness and support have grown around the globe since I was breastfeeding my first baby 5 years ago. To find out more about World Breastfeeding Week, visit the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action online at www.waba.org. If you’d like to learn more about the current status of breastfeeding in some global destinations, including Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and Canada, and what you might expect if planning travel there with your breastfed baby, check out my recent interviews with “Moms Around the World.”

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
Note: This post is part of Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com

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amy October 22, 2010 - 4:42 pm

My husband and I love to travel! We are now trying to plan our first family vacation with our son who will be about 7 months when we go. We are trying to decide between the easier option of Mexico, or the more appealing but more difficult option of Thailand. We love love Thailand! I feel confident in the hospitals there in the larger centres and we think we'll fly directly to Phuket to minimize traffic time. I think safety wise it is comparable to Mexico so now oddly the thing I'm worried about is the time change. I feel mean flipping his days to nights, plus the long haul flight. I'm nursing him still and we'll be flying from Canada. I think the flight might be easier at this stage than the toddler stage but Thailand is so far! I seen you traveled with your 7 month old to Thailand and it looks like your family had a wonderful time. Any advice?

CathyRay October 16, 2009 - 5:25 pm

Thanks for this post. We're about to head off to Thailand for six months with our 2-year-old and 7-month-old. I'm still nursing and this post is a nice "heads-up" for what we can expect! (The baby is a brunette… Maybe that will help deflect interest!) And P.S. Your book was great. A big help. Much more so than the LP guide. Thank you.

Shelly Rivoli August 16, 2009 - 7:11 pm

Kymri & all, you've inspired me! Read the next post as your formal invitation… Cheers!

Kymri August 16, 2009 - 12:02 am

Yay! Breastfeeding makes travel with a baby so much easier. Somewhere I've got a pic of me breastfeeding my daughter on the London Eye. I'll have to share it this month!

Mara from Motherofalltrips August 15, 2009 - 10:46 pm

What a gorgeous post. I was never out of the United States while my children were breastfeeding, but I remember that on a driving trip across the Midwest when my oldest was three months old I often felt as though I had to find a private place to do so. I nursed him in the hot car or in gas station bathrooms. I wish now that I had been bolder (as I was with my younger child).

Shelly Rivoli August 15, 2009 - 4:55 am

All good points. It's often hard to understand others' choices, and accept that we may not always have the full story either, and few of us ever walk a mile or more in the shoes of a stranger.

I'm lucky to be a "breastfeeder" in an area where that is very much the norm. Yet I know of moms who adopted and received stern talkings-to from strangers about "choosing the bottle"… Was it really any of their business? Was it really helpful in that context? And should they really have had to spend their time and energy explaining their particular situations to a nosy stranger?

A funny story on the flip side was when I was breastfeeding my younger daughter on a trip to Denver while I sat at a children's play area in a shopping mall, watching my other daughter play. I felt right at home and thought nothing of it. All of a sudden a woman about my mother's age came rushing up to me and began praising me loudly and dramatically so that everyone could hear what a wonderful–and beautiful!–thing she thought it was I was doing for my child. Naturally, heads turned. Then she announced how she chose to breastfeed all three of her children and people told her she was crazy.

I am very glad that information and support for breastfeeding seems to be improving around the world, as I gather from the feedback from the new moms in my interviews. With the help and support they need, more moms who wish to will be able to successfully breastfeed, and hopefully overcome any obstacles they may encounter. It's not easy being a full-time food machine! But I do consider it an honor.

familyadventureguidebooks August 15, 2009 - 3:42 am

This is a very interesting post. I have also encountered the baby sleeping problem, although why people think they should peek at a baby while they were sleeping…I'll never know. I always found one of those cute crocheted afghans that friends make for babies helpful for a comfortable cover up.

Marina, I have been on both sides of the breastfeeding issue. I raised my kids in Santa Cruz California which is super pro breastfeeding. I formula fed my second child since she joined our family as a foster child, and I was not allowed to try and breastfeed her. I discovered that bottles have their own convenience, and help empower grandparents and daddies to help out more, but I still intensely value breastfeeding and that special bond it fosters.

I ask all moms out there, as we have these discussions, to perhaps educate, but do not judge the decisions moms make in this arena. I got many dirty looks bottle feeding my daughter. I've had friends who tried very hard to nurse, but it just wasn't working. We don't know the road that other mom has traveled.

marina villatoro August 15, 2009 - 3:29 am

breast feeding is soooo good period! I never understood why some mothers actaully choose not to do it! An acquaintance of mine said she couldn't be bothered. I was shocked!

Travel With Kids August 14, 2009 - 9:16 pm

Breast feeding certainly makes travel easier (usually), although I feel for you in this situation. As a mom of two and breast feeding advocate I'm surprised that people expressed the idea that feeding your own baby is less appropriate for someone who is American and wealthy enough to travel. Sadly, some Westerners seem to agree, thinking that breast feeding is 'unnecessary' when you have an alternative (formula). I'd just like to take the opportunity to say(not for the first time): breast feeding is natural, healthy, and the best option for your baby, whereever you are in the world.

Shelly Rivoli August 14, 2009 - 5:47 pm

Thanks! Amy, if your sister or someone she knows grew up in Thailand and is raising small kids there now… we need to talk! 😉

Amy @ The Q Family August 14, 2009 - 4:56 pm

Great post! I agree that raising awareness is very important. We are lucky here in America that there are more programs to help educate new moms and support breastfeeding.

My sister who lives in Thailand couldn't imagine breastfeeding her kids. Not because she doesn't want to but she isn't aware of all the benefit and there is no support to help her transition to do so. It's hard to be a first time mom as it is so to take up on breastfeeding without support can be challenging.

Also older generation (my mom generation) do not breastfeed. I remembered growing up with bottle milk.

Kudos to you! Breastfeeding is definitely far better choice especially while traveling. No need to worry about storage or bad milk after the extreme weather.

Have Baby Will Travel August 14, 2009 - 4:51 pm

What a beautiful post.

I'm currently nursing my second and am a bit envious that you're able to be discreet should you wish to.

I wish I had the courage to travel with my first when she was much younger – breastfeeding is so easy when you're traveling with a baby!

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