World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is part of a global campaign to raise awareness about how breastfeeding contributes to the survival, health, and wellbeing of women and children, with the goal of galvanizing action on breastfeeding-related issues. This year, the theme is “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.”
Breastfeeding contributes significantly to improved public health and well-being worldwide. Having recognized the importance and benefit of breastfeeding, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is dedicated to protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding worldwide. WABA coordinates the global World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) in commemoration of the 1990 Innocenti Declaration. Additionally, WABA has identified the links between breastfeeding and each of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and has aligned the WBW campaign to these goals, reframing it as the “WBW-SDGs Campaign”.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breast milk is the ideal food for infants because it is highly nutritious and helps the baby to develop a healthy weight. To optimize infant health, the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommend breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth, breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond, along with the introduction of nutritional and complementary solid food from 6 months.
Breast Milk boosts an infant’s immune system, lowers the risk of developing infections and allergies, lowers the infant mortality rate and enhances cognitive functioning. Breastfeeding can also act as the baby’s first vaccine, offering protection against many common childhood illnesses and significantly lowering the risk of diabetes, respiratory tract infections, allergic diseases, and childhood leukaemia in infants.
While there may be concerns regarding breastfeeding amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO addressed misinformation, stating that “transmission of active Covid-19 through breast milk and breastfeeding has not been detected to date. There is no reason to avoid or stop breastfeeding.”
For nursing mothers suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, the WHO advises precautions be taken before breastfeeding like washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content, and always wearing a mask when in contact with the baby.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been advocating for Maternity Protection because expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to ensure adequate time for giving birth, recovery, and nursing their babies. Working women and families are especially vulnerable and require protection to ensure their jobs are not jeopardized because of pregnancy or maternity leave. There are also recommendations for countries to implement an International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes at all levels to empower breastfeeding mothers and ensure they are not targeted by industry, marketing, or public health professionals that promote formula-feeding.
Breastfeeding management is a cornerstone of public health and critical to achieving the SDGs. As such, stakeholders from the business sector and policy-makers must advocate for greater support and protection for nursing mothers.
Healthcare professionals can register for our comprehensive Maternal Health Course to learn more about the importance of breastfeeding, support nursing mothers, and address potential challenges.