Monday, March 14, 2011

Breastfeeding in Ghana

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding Readers!!!

This past summer I had the opportunity to travel with my family to Ghana, West Africa. This was a missions opportunity; my very first and my husband’s second. We were deeply committed to taking our children so that they could experience “being” in another country. I had always heard the stories of women “whipping” them out, not caring “…where they were…”, and etc etc etc. I frankly prided myself,

to a degree I suppose, on being a “good” breast feeder. Meaning I covered myself, ran to my car to feed my baby, or found some “safe” place to go feed them. But boy did I turn baaaaaad in Africa! I learned so much from Ghanian women. The women carry themselves with such grace, strength, & confidence. They are symbols of beauty. They are symbols of humility. They are women of innocence. They are women of courage. They are women of love. They are women of creativity. They are women who pull their boobs out IN PUBLIC and feed their babies!
I felt so stupid when I first saw a mom breastfeeding while sitting on the streets outside of the airport. I looked away, like “Oh, shoot! Sorry.” But she smiled at me. She held her head high; she looked down at her baby and stroked its cheek. She NEVER covered herself! She never covered her baby! She never rushed her baby! All while the police were right there outside of the airport. I kept watching her from afar. This intrigued me! She wasn’t exposing her breasts! She was feeding her baby! Everywhere I looked as we were in the city on the way to village, were babies on backs; babies on breasts. It was never ending. Mom’s with big babies, little babies, in between babies, and obviously preschool babies on breast or sitting at mom’s feet. Babies tied in the front with free access to breasts, while mom cleans, makes a sale, or does hair.
As we had church services, pastor’s wives sitting on front rows pulling out breasts feeding their babies. Ushers sitting down to feed babies; women praising God while feeding babies! Never once covering themselves; never once covering their babies; never once going to the back of the church or leaving. They were just feeding their babies!
Finally it happened….my little milkie baby wanted to eat…..IN PUBLIC! I was frantic! Not because of what people would say, because I KNEW I’d whip it out! But because I didn’t know what my husband would think. He was bringing the message this particular day. It was hot…..VEEEERY hot! I was thirsty. I was sweating. My babies were thirsty. They were sweating. We had one bottle of water to go around. She was having a fit! She wanted some milkies!!! I tried to offer her some water; but she refused. I looked at daddy in the pulpit and he KNEW. He mouthed to me “go ahead and feed her…” Oh boy was I excited! I get to experience PUBLIC breastfeeding! I unbuttoned my shirt, pulled out my breast; she latched on and melted in my arms. I was so happy! I felt so free! I WAS PUBLIC BREASTFEEDING! Then for a moment, a voice rose up and said “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Put a cover over that baby!” It was her THE AMERICAN SHLONDA…. I quickly reached for something and covered myself and my milkie baby. It wasn’t long before she was nursing and angry! I looked at her and she was pouring in sweat!! I looked around and all of the women were looking at me (I just haaaad to sit in the front right?!). They were frowning like I did something wrong! They just kept staring; whispering to one another. They didn’t understand what I was doing. They were worried about my baby. They saw her under a cover…in HOT weather…sweating….wanting to eat. I felt bad, then. What was I doing?! It was my baby….EATING! It felt so right to be able to sit, where I was and feed her. She was happy….kicking her little feet…rubbing her milkies, LOL! I was soon that mother I saw my first half hour in Africa…..confident, head held high, looking at my baby, & stroking her cheek. I had arrived ignorant; departed as a Re-educated AFRICAN-American…..

Check out these other Carnival of Breastfeeding Posts:
Lan: Race & Breastfeeding
Why we need more Lactation Consultants of color
Breastfeeding & Race South Africa


  1. One of my favorite things to say is "Discreet is bull****" because I really believe that women should be able to breastfeed whenever and wherever and however. I wish I saw more of these every day where I live. I look forward to the day when women whip it out and breastfeed their babies without thinking twice about being "indecent" or "discreet."

    1. Hi , I totally agree. Why should babies feed with a cover over their head !

  2. What a beautiful experience. I really wish our culture were more like that.

  3. I really loved reading your story. What an experience that must have been! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Most of the time we Americans consider ourselves blessed to be Americans. Our attitudes about feeding our babies are definitely NOT blessed. I'd love to live in a country like Ghana where breastfeeding in public is second nature.

  5. How awesome was this experience?! It always amazes me that ppl IN AMERICA look down on you FEEDING your baby when you breast feed. Even the silly formula commercials say BREAST FEEDING is best, yet you are looked down upon if you nurse in public. That freedom must have been nice Shlonda! Continue to experience that freedom right here in America. I know I am. But NOW let's go even further and nurse TODDLERS in public too! Liberating indeed! Love the story! Very well written as well! :-)

  6. What a beautiful story, how lovey to hear how public breatsfeeding made you a stronger woman. My journey in that arena has now ended but I still love to hear others talk about their journeys.

  7. Your story actually brought tears to my eyes. It's so amazing seeing a rebirth happening in someone. "The women carry themselves with such grace, strength, & confidence. They are symbols of beauty." Of course they do. They are WOMEN. They are able to create life within their bodies. They are (generally) able to BIRTH their babies. They are able to NOURISH their babies from their bodies. They are able to COMFORT their babies in their arms. What is there not to be proud about? What is there not to feel graceful, strong and confident about. If I as WOMAN can do THIS... what else can I not do? (Of course that's not to say that those who NEED to not birth naturally aren't real women, or the 5% who CAN'T breastfeed should feel inferior. What it is 'to say' however, is no wonder these women are proud. They deserve to be!)

    The other thing is, the more people like you and me nurse in PUBLIC, nurse in CHURCH and listen to our babies, the more it becomes the norm.

    I decided I would nurse around my 17 year old niece and my 18 year old second cousin, because, I decided, if I was to be the only person they ever see doing it, then at least I was one person. At least it wouldn't be an entirely foreign concept to them, and at least they wouldn't think only freaks did it. And so, step by step, day by day, one person at a time, it normalises, so that one day, maybe, my little girl can sit in church and feed without fear or shame.

    Bless you for this lovely post, and for being willing to grow :)

  8. What a wondeful experience. I'm so thankful, it's exhilarating to hear how you have grown, how strong and even more beautiful (I'm sure) you've become. When I see my beautiful daughters, strong and healthy, it is the greatest blessing that God made me a woman so I could experience the pleasure and pride of bringing my babies into the world and feeding them all on my own God-given power. Amen!

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  10. This reminds me of the cultural norm of native indian women in my birth country, Guyana, and I fully intend to practice it while here. It is exhilarating to see them nursing and their children and everyone else, so indifferent, and happy about it.