A trip to the sales

It would take more than a 1-month baby and horrendous weather to come between me and the January sales. Even the fact that it wasn’t yet January didn’t deter me from taking the train into Oslo in pursuit of a bargain on Friday. It’s more than two years since I ventured on public transport with a stroller but I’m glad to report that Norwegian train conductors and conductresses still offer assistance when getting on and off the train. Once in the city I only managed to make a dent in the bank balance at Mango and Zara, two of the only stores that have started their sales; it seems that the rest of Oslo’s retailers are waiting until it’s actually January to slash their prices. But what struck me more than the absence of retail frenzy was the dearth of decent - let me rephrase that – the dearth of ANY designated areas for breastfeeding.
La Leche League reports that 99 % of Norwegian mothers breastfeed when their babies arrive and 50% are still nursing after six months. That’s a lot of women wandering around the shops in nursing bras. So why is there nowhere in the city centre for them to sit and feed? Back in my Singapore days, where breastfeeding is far less prevalent – the only figures I could find were for back in 1985 when 39% of mothers were breastfeeding at one month – I was familiar with all the nursing and changing rooms along Orchard Road, the main shopping thoroughfare. My favourite was on the third floor of Takishimya department store were nursing mothers could sit in a curtained cubicle, momentarily bonding over their infants through blood-shot eyes, before covering up and continuing with the shopping. I seem to remember that Brown Thomas in Dublin also have such a cubicle and Ireland is not known as a nation of breast-feeders although the numbers of nursing moms are increasing.
But I could find no such facilities in Oslo. Sure there were a few cafes, but all were so small that most of the seating was outside on the pavement. At -4˚C I was only momentarily tempted to buy myself a warm drink and sit among the smokers. In the end, after much pounding of pavements, I parked myself indoors, on a bench beside the information counter of Steen & Strøm, Oslo’s poshest department store, where my baby’s bobbing head greeted everyone who crossed the threshold like a suckling sentry. I wondered if it was because breastfeeding is so common and socially-acceptable here that shop owners don’t feel the need to accomododate us? Is it because nursing babies are less common in the UK, Ireland and Singapore that we are provided the option of keeping out of sight and warm while shopping and feeding? And what about those who don’t breastfeed? I fondly remember the kettles for boiling water and heating bottles provided in every nursing room along Orchard Road. What on earth is a mother in Oslo supposed to do with the bottle of water half-frozen in the nappy bag and a baby desperate for formula?
Maybe new mothers in Oslo avoid shopping altogether. There are certainly plenty of pushchairs about but with duvets and sheepskin-lined sleeping bags it’s usually impossible to see what age baby, if any, lies beneath. Or perhaps Norwegians are happy to buy over-priced coffee and freeze their chests off on a seat outside a café; mind you I didn’t see any on Friday so maybe not.
As for me, I came home with a beautful white wool coat – dry clean only, of course. It’s not very practical but it would take more than the prospect of baby vomit on the shoulder and wretched weather to come between me and a 30% discount label. Happy Shopping!


1 comment:

Unni said...

As a Norwegian breastfeeding mum and expat in Luxembourg, it's interesting to read the views of an expat in Norway on this, because I certainly miss the breastfeeding culture in Norway. I think you're on to something when you say that Norwegians are just so used to breastfeeding anytime and anywhere that nobody has thought of the need for such accomodation (maybe they should, though). In my breastfeeding days in Oslo, I never had any problems finding a café convenient for breastfeeding :-). I could write a lot about the differences between Norway and countries like Luxembourg and France on this, and it would be in favour of Norway :-)