As a birth-person’s body has been maintaining and closely interacting with the baby for nine entire months, it has had plenty of time to create the perfect potion to nourish that baby. Breast milk has the right set of microorganisms, vitamins, and minerals that the baby needs. Most organizations and medical professionals agree with The World Health Organization’s (WHO) stance on breastfeeding: “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” It is also very important to begin breastfeeding during the baby’s first hour after birth.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is an organization that was created in 1991. They have partnered with several other organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, La Leche League International (LLLLI), the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), and International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to promote breastfeeding globally. During the first week of August, these organizations, in addition to people working in over 120 countries, are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. “World Breastfeeding Week 2019 campaign aims to address labour and gender inequalities to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.”
The American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) published a statement of initiatives they support that align with those of World Breastfeeding Week to encourage and promote breastfeeding. They are tied deeply to the benefits beyond the health of the baby of breastfeeding (such as reducing postpartum bleeding) and some of the obstacles that make it difficult for birth-people to breastfeed.
World Breastfeeding Week’s press release shares, “Breastfeeding is one of the best investments in saving lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations. Although global breastfeeding initiation rates are relatively high, and despite international recommendations, only 40% of all babies under 6 months are exclusively breastfed and 45% continue breastfeeding up to 24 months.”
They go on to explain some of the causes that create such low numbers of birth-people who are actually able to follow these recommendations. Around the world, many women must cease breastfeeding because they have to get back to work. Mostly, they have jobs that are informal and do not provide maternal protections such as paid maternal leave; and in addition to those jobs not offering breastfeeding support, they are not conducive to breastfeeding because the commute to work is long, the hours are taxing, and/or the working conditions are not very safe.
This is an unfortunate reality for many birth-people and babies, and as a whole it has larger economic and environmental impacts. According to the authors of Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices?, an interesting and thorough analysis published in 2016, not breastfeeding is estimated to cause the loss of $302 billion annually. Breastfeeding, indubitably, is also the best choice for our environment in comparison to formula. Formula requires a large scale consumption of water, electricity, land, and precious resources such as oil and gas to manufacture and distribute globally. It creates unnecessary waste and pollution while breastmilk is a “natural and renewable food”.
Breastfeeding is a powerful way that birth-people can nourish and deeply connect with their babies, and given this perspective, it is hard to imagine why in the U.S. and many other “western” countries people tend to feel uncomfortable around the topic. This blog post shares an interesting perspective on breastfeeding from an expat in Mongolia. Ruth Kamnitzer highlights the ways in which Mongolians are so supportive and excited about breastmilk, especially compared to reactions she would have received living in Canada. In Mongolia, breastfeeding is the go-to parenting technique, it is thought of as a way to fortify babies and toddlers, and it is something that everyone in the community will participate in. If in some corners of the world, breastfeeding is so incredibly cherished, then we can envision a future in which that same sentiment can be felt globally. That is why we are wishing everyone a happy close to World Breastfeeding Week, and recognizing the efforts of the people and organizations involved in supporting breastfeeding internationally.
Written by Gabrielle Cappelletti, the intern.