“Supporting Women’s Right to Breastfeed”: a Joint Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women 59, March 9-20, 2015
March 2015 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) – of which La Leche League International is a member – issued a Statement, Supporting Women’s Right to Breastfeed. Along with other organisations it called for a re-examining of the Beijing Platform for Action, to look at progress made and gaps remaining in achieving women’s full equality and empowerment. Breastfeeding is a human right.
The Statement says clearly that breastfeeding is a right of both the mother and child, and is upheld in various Human Rights Declarations and Conventions.
Right to optimal health for mothers and children
The Statement makes clear that breastfeeding is fundamental to child survival, nutrition and development, but it is also important to maternal health, protection against non-communicable diseases and contribution to environmental sustainability. It contributes to birth spacing, reduces the risk of postpartum haemorrhage, breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 1. It fosters mother-infant emotional bonds and a sense of security, and is a natural and renewable food that involves no packaging, transportation or fuel.
Yet in many countries breastfeeding is neglected, known supportive interventions are under-resourced and aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes continues, unchecked. While most women want to breastfeed they face obstacles that often interfere with it.
Promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding
The Strategic Objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action, 1995 included:
- Increasing women’s access to quality health care and accurate information to empower them to make informed decisions regarding breastfeeding, family nutrition and health. Providing legal, economic, practical and emotional support to enable mothers to breastfeed for as long as they wish. Fully implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes to diminish the ability of industry to provide misinformation and manipulate public opinion on breastfeeding.
- Strengthening preventive programmes that promote women’s health; woman and health care workers need training and accurate information on breastfeeding.
- Undertaking gender-sensitive initiatives that address sexual and reproductive health issues.
- Researching and sharing information on women’s health to promote women-centred research, treatment and technology.
- Promoting harmonisation of work and family responsibilities for women and men through legislation to offer opportunities for both to take job protected parental leave.
- Supporting breastfeeding for working mothers.
The Goal is to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition
Promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition. Nutrition sets the foundation for health and sustainable development, yet levels of malnutrition remain unacceptably high. Increasing to at least 50% the proportion of children less than 6 months old who are exclusively breastfed with contribute to reducing the risk of wasting, stunting and obesity in children, and anaemia in women of reproductive age. 2 3 .
Effective Interventions exist
The Statement goes on to say that substantial evidence shows that implementing comprehensive policies that promote, protect and support breastfeeding can increase breastfeeding rates. Twenty-three countries have increased exclusive breastfeeding rates by over 20% after adopting national policies, such as Code implementation, maternity protection, supportive delivery practices, increased health worker capacity for counselling and better communication. 5 Breastfeeding interventions can reach populations with limited access to health systems, thus reducing inequities.
Call to Action for universal public health policies
The Statement concludes that there is an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that promotion, protection and support of optimal breastfeeding becomes universal public health policy. It calls upon all governments, relevant UN agencies and NGOs (non government organisations) to work towards breastfeeding goals, such as infants starting breastfeeding within one hour of life, and at least 50% being exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and continuing up to two years of age and beyond. It calls for the implementation of Baby-friendly best practices and ensuring all mothers have access to skilled breastfeeding counselling and support both at health facility and community levels. The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions should be fully implemented. Countries should prepare plans for Safe Infant Feeding In Emergencies to regulation artificial feeding donation and distribution, and ensure nurturing and breastfeeding are an important part of policies and considered as part of the economic contribution of women.
La Leche League GB
LLLGB sees at first hand just how important the right support and information is to women who are making choices which affect their families’ health and well-being. We welcome this Statement and hope that continued efforts are made to ensure that breastfeeding is recognised as vitally important both to society as a whole, and to each individual mother who wants to breastfeed her baby.
Written by Anna Burbidge
1 Bartick MC et al. Cost analysis of maternal disease associated with suboptimal breastfeeding, Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(1):111-9
2 Jones, Gareth, et al. How many child deaths can we prevent this year? The Lancet. 2003;362(9377): 65–71.
3 Effect of Breastfeeding on Infant and Child Mortality Due to Infectious Diseases in Less Developed Countries: A pooled analysis. WHO Collaborative Study Team on the Role of Breastfeeding on the Prevention of Infant Mortality. Lancet. 2000;355(9202): 451–5.
4 Black RE, et al. and the Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low income and middle-income countries. Lancet 2013; published online June 6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60937-X.
5 UNICEF. Breastfeeding on the Worldwide Agenda: Findings from a landscape analysis on political commitment to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. UNICEF, New York, 2013.
Copyright LLLGB 2015