Why and how does breastfeeding concern us all?

Breastfeeding concerns us all and that is what this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week is all about: “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”. Each year, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated globally in the first week of August (1st -7th). Organisations come together to encourage greater awareness about different topics regarding breastfeeding.

So why and how does breastfeeding concern us all? In an emergency setting, like the one I am in now in northern South Sudan, breastfeeding can mean life or death for a child below two years of age. In a high-income setting, like the Netherlands where I am from, breastfeeding has the potential to, among other things, protect children from obesity. In all settings, children that have been breastfed, especially exclusively for the first six months, have higher intelligence and are less prone to diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding also has a protective effect on women, especially those that breastfeed for a longer period. It has the potential to prevent breast cancer, works as a contraceptive method, and could reduce the risk of diabetes and ovarian cancer.1

We know, however, that most women are already convinced that breastfeeding is the best for their children and plan to do just that, breastfeed. But choosing to breastfeed and actually breastfeeding are not easy for most women. Women are faced with many barriers in their goal of breastfeeding their children; like being bullied for breastfeeding in public, not being allowed to breastfeed or pump at work, told lies by the formula industry, or receiving a lack of support during the learning period from spouses, family members, friends, and health care personnel.

As a lactation consultant (IBCLC), I am passionate not just about children getting breast milk, but even more so about supporting women being able to reach their feeding goals. Many women feel alone in their struggles and consequently feel bad that they are unable to successfully breastfeed. Let us all be people who encourage the women around us to breastfeed; encourage them to seek help when they are struggling or when you see a breastfeeding women in public, smile at her, or stand up for her if somebody harasses her. Let us be partners and family members that support our loved ones in their struggles. So let us all do our part in protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding!

As a public health person I wish that we would achieve greater numbers of exclusive breastfeeding, continued breastfeeding, early initiation of breastfeeding, and consequently lower mortality and morbidity rates among children and their mothers. But ultimately, my hope is that each woman and child gets to enjoy the bond between a mother and child while breastfeeding.

As a nutrition manager working for Medair in Renk, South Sudan, we run a nutrition program that creates an encouraging and supportive environment where women can learn how to breastfeed and about the benefits of exclusive and continued breastfeeding.

Attached is a picture of baby Angar and her mother. Angar was a severely malnourished 2 month-old that was treated in Medair’s stabilization centre and received breastfeeding support there. Today she is a healthy 5-month-old (?) and is exclusively breastfed in a small community in a corner of South Sudan. Another picture is of me doing skin-to-skin to a one-year old boy that is currently in our stabilization centre. The child was suffering from low body temperature due to an infection and we wanted to make sure that it would be okay during the transportation from the out-patient clinic to the in-patient clinic.

References

1 Victora C.G., Bahl, R., Barros, A.J.D. et al (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet; 387; 475-90.

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