Monday, 17 February 2014

Breastfeeding in Public in Korea

Updated 5 September 2016

I was recently asked what Koreans think about breastfeeding in public. I have to say that only once have I had an issue with it. I have no qualms about breastfeeding in public and have done so on the subway, bus, and even walking down the street cradling my daughter when she was sleeping. My daughter's almost 2 and a half and I'm still breastfeeding. In Korean age she's 4 and I think that some Koreans believe that breastfeeding until Korean age 2 is ok, but after that it's not.

Breastfeeding Lounges
Many department stores, immigration offices, some restaurants, as well as some train stations will have breastfeeding lounges. They can run from basic to very nice. They'll have things such as changing tables, microwaves, fridges, cribs, wipes, and even scales. Here's a map of breastfeeding lounges throughout Seoul. This is not a complete map.

Problems with Breastfeeding in Public
Which brings me to the one time I have had an issue with breastfeeding in public. We were on the subway and I started to breastfeed her and an old lady asked how old she was and I said she was 3. She proceeded to do the flapping hand thing and say something about age 2. So I did the flapping hand thing as well and told her to go away. She in Korean and me in English. I don't understand Korean, but I'm pretty sure the jist of it was that my daughter was too old to breastfeed according to her. Even though I nursed my daughter until she was almost 4 (western), I did it less and less in public as she got older.

Koreans are Open to Breastfeeding
Many older people will actually tell you to breastfeed. I remember being on the subway when she was a baby and them telling me that she was hungry and that I should feed her. I've also been assisted by a random ajumma in the sauna with latching. It can be annoying, all the unwanted advice you get. It's just cultural. They do it to Koreans as well. They're trying to help and they mean well.

I have found that nursing seems to be more talked about with the older generation. And by that, I've found that they want to give you advice. But that might be a generation gap issue with older people offering more advice in general, ex, your baby's too cold, or too hot, or too whatever. 

There are nursing rooms in subway stations, department stores, zoos, kids' cafes, immigration offices, and even some of the new subway trains have them. They're very nice, some have multiple rooms with changing areas, nursing areas, sink, microwave, etc. Some are more basic and just have a table and chair.

Koreans' Reactions to Breastfeeding
I know that some women try to cover up and use nursing covers. Those seem to work for the first couple of months and then babies want to see what's going on and will push it off. There are other options, such as nursing in a wrap or carrier, or using your hand or scarf to cover up a bit. Just like you wouldn't like eating under a blanket, many babies don't like it either.

I've heard of some good come back from women who are told to cover up. Some are nicer than others. One of my favorites is when I woman is offered a blanket and she tells the person thanks, but she doesn't need it and they're welcome to use it to cover their eyes if they'd like to.

I have never, ever been stared at. When people realize you're breastfeeding they tend to divert their eyes and look away. There are many, many articles about breastfeeding in public, or nursing in public (NIP) out there. Here's one from Double Think called Every Argument about NIP Debunked. It has photos, so you might not want to view it at work. I personally like the warrior photo.

Breastfeeding Legalities: legally during the first 12 months after giving birth you are either allowed to come an hour late, leave an hour early, or given an hour two 30 minute sessions to pump at work. Here is some useful links. All docs are from 2011.
The Acts for Equal Employment have all maternity, paternity, and childcare laws. However, laws are not always followed here. You may be given a closet to pump in or told to go to the bathroom.

Tender Embrace Birthing offers childbirth, breastfeeding, and newborn care classes and support.


  1. This blog has seriously just given me so much hope for my return to Korea. I wasn't sure about anything child related and could not really find the answers. I don't know why this blog didn't come up during my first 50 billion searches, but I am glad to find it now. Such valuable information here.


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