World Breastfeeding Week is marked by a steady stream of promotional and informational messages on ways to support breastfeeding families to reach their goals. The messaging is centered around why breastfeeding makes a difference in the health and well-being of individuals and the global population.
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is an annual celebration that is held every year from August 1-7 in more than 120 countries across the globe. WBW was founded by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and was first celebrated in 1992 in commemoration of the Innocenti Declaration. Global organizations such as UNICEF and WHO participate, as do thousands of other healthcare organizations, governmental agencies, and individuals. It is the first week of National Breastfeeding Month in the USA, where the month-long promotion of breastfeeding culminates with the celebration of Black Breastfeeding Week (stay tuned for an upcoming event in Berkley!).
August 1-7 has also become synonymous with messages that breastfeeding isn’t important at all and there is too much pressure to being placed on birthing parents. Competing “anti” messages are shared in the media and make their way across social networks in the form of memes, and in some cases, horror stories. In this way, breastfeeding becomes a political issue rather than a health and parenting issue. How individuals feel about breastfeeding is personal, as it should be. Together we must look for ways to separate feelings from facts, as facts are not judgmental.
If everyone knows breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed human infants, why do we still need World Breastfeeding Week? We have to continue promoting breastfeeding because parents need support including parental leave, guaranteed breaktime, government funding for programs that support breastfeeding families, and ongoing research and education. Breastfeeding promotion is not about shaming families who cannot or chose not to breastfeed. Promotion ensures the people who need to hFear the message know that breastfeeding matters and it helps limit the undermining of breastfeeding by people who stand to profit when parents do not breastfeed.
Promotion and support make a difference both on the individual and population levels. Yes, breastfeeding matters.
The ideal that World Breastfeeding Week aims to promote is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. The research shows that the protection breastfeeding provides against respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses, middle ear infections, and allergy in babies and in heart, metabolic, and reproductive health in mothers is compounded when babies are breastfed exclusively for about the first six months of life. We should continue promoting exclusive breastfeeding while also recognizing the problems parents face in achieving this goal, and providing support to help them overcome challenges that may prevent them from breastfeeding as long as they would like.
All of this said, in our promotion of breastfeeding, we must be careful not to minimize or ignore the experiences of parents who, for whatever reason, were unable to meet their own personal breastfeeding goals. For someone who wanted so desperately to provide their baby(ies) with their own milk, it can be hurtful to hear about the importance of breastfeeding on a population level and it can sting to hear of the success of others. In our messaging, we must make clear that every drop counts and some breastfeeding, even once, is beneficial. There’s no one right way to breastfeed and the individual way parents define their own success is something to be celebrated.
So, enjoy the week that celebrates breastfeeding, ensuring you internally filter the messaging as good, bad, or ugly. It is okay to take what works for you and leave the rest. Share with family and friends what inspires you. Lift someone else up who may be struggling. We all can play a role in improving maternal and child health, and in many ways, that all begins with breastfeeding. This year’s theme is empowering parents to breastfeed, and together, we can do just that.
If you are facing breastfeeding challenges and you live in the San Francisco Bay area, reach out to me through my webpage to book an appointment!