World Breastfeeding Week is just around the corner! Annually, WBW is celebrated from August 1 to 7 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF, and other organizations to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.
We can never overemphasize the benefits of breastfeeding: Breastfeeding promotes better health for both mothers and children. According to UNICEF, breastfeeding could save more than 800,000 lives each year, mostly children under 6 months old. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. According to WHO, breastfeeding could prevent 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.
The #WBW2019 slogan is “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding.” Empowerment is a process that requires evidence-based, unbiased information, and support to create an enabling environment where mothers can breastfeed optimally. Breastfeeding is in the mother’s domain and when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities support her, breastfeeding improves.
This year, activists around the world are working to promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life, when it matters most. This includes a parent-friendly workplace that protects and supports mothers’ ability to continue breastfeeding upon their return to work. Mothers need access to breastfeeding breaks, a private and hygienic space for expressing breastmilk, and a place to store expressed milk. Affordable childcare is equally important. (Read more: Breastfeeding discrimination in the workplace is real)
This also includes enacting paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks—recommended by WHO—, and paid paternity leave to encourage shared responsibility of caring for their children on an equal basis. (Read more: Governor Newsom proposed giving parents six months paid leave)
Last month, organized by U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, a group of breastfeeding advocates traveled together to the U.S. Capitol to discuss issues impacting breastfeeding families with their Members of Congress.
In the few short weeks since Advocacy Day, we’ve already seen progress on several pieces of breastfeeding-friendly legislation:
- The House of Representatives has passed a spending package with historic funding levels for the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program.
- The Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act has passed the Senate and is now awaiting signature into law (the bill passed the house in February).
- The Small Airports Mothers’ Room Act has been introduced and had its first Congressional hearing. USBC disseminated a letter that garnered signatures of support from 60 organizations.
These are real examples of how empowering parents can enable breastfeeding, and how support changes everything. The impact of the conversation will continue to emerge.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth and until the age of 6 months old. This goal is hard to achieve without supports. Luckily, everyone can support this process, as breastfeeding is a team effort.