Today, August 7, is the last day of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week.
World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 to 7), observed in more than 170 countries, is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), a global network of individuals and organisations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide based on the Innocenti Declarations, the Ten Links for Nurturing the Future and the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.
Breastfeeding is considered a key contributor to the survival of infants, children and mothers, and a component that improves their health, development and wellbeing both in both the short and long terms.
Breastfeeding, as it is known, has long-term benefits for babies as it reduces the baby’s risk of infections, cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-SIDS), childhood leukaemia, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease later in life. For mothers, the more they breastfeed, the greater the benefits are as it lowers the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity among others.
This year, the event is being held on four thematic areas- Nutrition, Food Security and Poverty Reduction; Survival, Health and Wellbeing; Environment and Climate Change; and Women’s Productivity and Employment.
As per the WABA, under-nutrition, including sub-optimal breastfeeding, underlies 45% of all deaths of children under 5 annually. It highlights that breastfeeding is a vital part of sustainable development and a non-negotiable component of global action to end malnutrition.
The organisation propagates that increased rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can only be achieved by cooperating and collaborating across sectors and generations: that breastfeeding is not just a woman’s issue or the sole responsibility of a woman- the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility shared by all.
WABA also sheds light that breastfeeding contributes to the environment and climate change as breastmilk substitute industry carries a negative environmental impact. It says that formula production and consumption generates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which accelerates global warming: 720,450 tonnes of milk formula sold in 6 Asian countries generated almost 2.9 million tonnes of GHG. This is apparently equivalent to nearly 7000 million miles driven by an average passenger vehicle or 1.03 million tonnes of waste sent to landfill sites, an it is also estimated that more than 4000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kg of breastmilk substitute powder.
The observation of the World Breastfeeding Week also aims at creating awareness that policies and legislation for maternity protection or protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed and work are essential. Breastfeeding is a part of the reproductive cycle and women should be able to combine breastfeeding and paid work without discrimination or disadvantage. According to WABA, every additional month of paid maternity leave decreases infant mortality rates by 13%.
There is an agreed goal for all governments to prioritise the World Health Assembly target for an increase in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months upto at least 50% by 2025.
Accordingly, in India, the Central government has recently endorsed to grant six months maternity leave to its employees, and the Nagaland state government also assured to follow up on the same lines, but the current period is said to be three months. The paid maternity leave for government servants in the state might be a lot less than Iceland’s105.6 weeks of paid maternity leave to its mother employees, but three months is still a luxury comparing to mothers who are employed in the few existing private corporations.
On the other hand, while the world is campaigning to promote breastfeeding (anywhere), it is not unusual to hear about nursing mothers being asked to cover up, here in Nagaland or elsewhere.
However, it is encouraging that few churches and other institutions have introduced the “cradle room”, a lactation room in other words, allowing only mother and her baby some ‘privacy’. There is still a long way to go yet. If you are uncomfortable seeing mothers nursing their babies, do something. Show some respect. Create a private space for breast-feeding mothers, not because it is the law but because that is the right thing to do. It is worth mentioning here that the authors of ‘Breastfeeding Medicine’ study had argued that lactation rooms should be added to the design standards for buildings under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Protection, support and promotion of breastfeeding entail more than caring for mother and child. The right to breastmilk is a basic human right. Breastfeeding helps early child development and also contributes to a better environment. It requires the emancipation of women.