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Auf wiedersehen, Wien! Stillen in Austria, Part I

Updated: Sep 7, 2019

I'm writing on the long plane ride home after a lovely trip to Vienna, Austria. My husband and I attended a medical education conference there, and took a few days after to explore Vienna. In addition to the palaces, museums, cathedrals, outdoor cafes, and coffeehouses, I was also fortunate enough to have spent time with two ladies who would be considered my counterparts back in the US. Whenever I travel to another country I like to look for clues about how that culture approaches breastfeeding. It's fascinating to me because it is one of those things that I know for sure that we all have in common, but we put our own cultural twist on it. I have a lot to write about, so bear with me…this might have to come in a few posts!


This is the beautiful entryway to Nanaya

On a warm morning, I took the U (subway) to a beautiful, architecturally- stunning area on the west side of Vienna. There an IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and nurse named Claudia met with me to talk about birth, breastfeeding and how they do things in her culture. She manages a center called Nanaya that the closest thing I can compare it to here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, would be Renew Mama Studio (check out their Facebook Page HERE). They host classes for when you are trying to conceive (they call it a "Baby Wish"), natural family planning contraception methods, pregnancy and mom/baby yoga, childbirth and breastfeeding classes, baby shiatsu, baby massage, craniosacral therapy, bonding, fathering classes, baby-wearing, new mother support groups, couples/relationship classes, single parent support groups, and so much more! The booklet which lists their offerings is 51 pages long. It is a vibrant place, and it seems to be a haven for women and men who are looking for guidance in their new role as parents. They come not only for the education and advice, but also for the comraderie and connection (to get out of the house and talk to an adult once in awhile).


The building is light-filled with beautiful wood floors in a chevron pattern, large windows, yoga balls held on handrails attached high up on the wall, and comfortable mats and pillows for childbirth classes. They have kitchenettes for the mothers, lending libraries, lots of informational brochures, a patio for storing their prams, an elevator for wheelchair accessibility, and windows in small interior rooms that open to the hallways/stairwells for breezes. Such an old, architecturally-interesting space; I wanted to spend the whole day there exploring the nooks and crannies.


Claudia is the manager of this space, but also works as an educator and IBCLC. She used to work in the hospital as a postpartum nurse and lactation consultant (just like me!) but she found it too frustrating to do the type of lactation she wanted to do (she was turned off by the excessive computer charting—just like me) so she switched to being a community based provider and loves it. She feels moms struggle a lot with breastfeeding, like in the USA, but we both decide that it is probably because we don't see the "good" breastfeeders; only the difficult cases come across our doorstep, so we are naturally going to get a skewed view of things. She states one of the area hospitals has a C-Section rate which is quite low (19%) but they do not invest in lactation consultants so mothers don't get much help with breastfeeding while in the hospital. I ask her about nipple shields. She states she encounters mothers with flat nipples but they use a lot of patience getting baby to latch, and rarely use nipple shields (but they do have them if needed). When I ask her about her most challenging cases and pointers on how she handles them, she tells me of the multiple modalities she uses to improve breastfeeding. She believes if the typical latch/positioning and craniosacral therapy don't work, then they move on to emotional reasons for breastfeeding problems. She then works with mother to process her birth, remember her own birth, and to learn how to "talk" to baby in an empathic way. It wasn't clear to me if Claudia was a counselor or not (in our sense of the word), but I know she did three years of training in Switzerland as a craniosacral therapist and uses this type of modality when working with her families.


Claudia (IBCLC and educator at Nanaya) and me

Women from each culture have knowledge, traditions, and beliefs surrounding how to feed and raise their children. Although we are mammals at our core, we learn by observing what other women in our lives do, and listening to our mother's, aunt's, and grandmother's stories; it is our own personal legacy to either reject or embrace. Our peers, popular culture, and the mom and baby and medical professionals we consult also influence our decisions. It was just so very cool to learn how others approach life/health/parenting. And just as in the United States, there are very different views and opinions about how things "should be done" and about how babies "should be raised", so the next installation of this blog will be about my trip to one of the local Austrian hospitals….so stay tuned!