In America, the social narrative continues around breastfeeding. There seems to be a constant and unending debate over how long to nurse, nursing in public, breastfeeding and working, etc. Hundreds of miles across our world’s oceans however, there are even longer standing cultural influences present around the act of breastfeeding. Here are just a few examples of the unique and rich traditions of breastfeeding around the world.
Much of Turkey remains very rural, with tribe-like villages throughout the area. Many of these villages are prominently Muslim. In these villages, formula is not readily available. When a mother is unable to breastfeed, even if only temporarily, a wet nurse is used. In the Islamic traditions, if another mother nurses a baby she is considered to be a mother to the child. Her children will then also be milk siblings and thus are ineligible to marry the child when they become adults. Though this is more prevalent in less developed Islamic regions, this tradition is observed by Muslims around the world. Some large modern milk-sharing networks in places like Indonesia, where there is a large Islamic presence, even keep record of babies for this reason. Having both shared milk and nursed another infant myself, I can certainly attest to the bonding elements present. The Islamic traditions about milk sharing are simply beautiful to me. 
Mongolia is known for it’s affinity for wrestling, hot tea with yak butter in it, and breast milk. Breast milk in Mongolia is serious business. For starters, children nurse for years into childhood. There is even a saying among Mongolians that if a male child nurses to the age of six he will grow to be a great wrestler. Did I mention they are really big on wrestling? Not only do children nurse for a very long time compared to the west, adults readily enjoy breast milk as well. It is not uncommon for women to express excess milk into a bowl for their husbands to enjoy. Aging and sickly adults are also often given breast milk for their health. Breast milk is packed with antibodies that are good for you at any age. Even moms in the west are discovering the all purpose healing properties of their extra milk. Recent studies even have discovered properties in human breast milk that are fighting cancer and HIV. Maybe the Mongolians are on to something? 
In China, and until recent generations Japan as well, breast massage was considered a necessity with breastfeeding. Today, Chinese massage therapists enjoy a very lucrative profession performing massages on the breasts of China’s postpartum lactating mothers. It is believed that this helps get milk flowing, prevents plugged ducts and breast infections, and helps engorgement. Being involved in lactation medicine, it is hard to argue with this belief. Breast massage is often recommended for all of the above except in a do it yourself context. That said, I am not sure any US Lactation Consultants will be referring out to a professional breast massage therapist any time soon. Especially since it is illegal in most states. 
1. DeLoache, J. & Gottlieb, A. (2000). A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Seven Societies. Making Babies in a Turkish Village (pp 117 – 144) New York City, NY: Cambridge University Press
2. Kamnitzer, R. (February 28th, 2011). Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan. InCulture Parent. Retrieved from
3.Payne, Cynthia, IBCLC. “Japanese Culture and Breastfeeding.” New Beginnings, Vol. 20 No. 5, September–October 2003, pp. 181