The theme for the 2017 World Breastfeeding Week, “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”, says it all: breastfeeding is a joint effort, involving a variety of actors whose collaboration is required to give mother and baby optimal conditions and maximum chances for a successful breastfeeding journey.

While breastfeeding can be a very intimate experience for mothers and babies, it is not something that the mother alone should have to bear responsibility for. Ensuring that mothers have access to necessary information and support to make breastfeeding work is also crucial for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoting and supporting breastfeeding can be anything but simple though. Dr. Prashant Gangal from La Leche League International (LLLI) states that one of the greatest challenges LLLI faces in working with support groups at the community level is to help mothers, families and health personnel to recognize their role and importance in making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies.

Elien Rouw, Liaison for the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Alliance (WABA), notes that breastfeeding is in fact something that concerns the community as a whole: it involves the mother and baby, but also family, friends and neighbors, as well as health care workers in many variations and the legal system in society.

Legal frameworks and policies can either help or hinder the breastfeeding experience. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies through strengthening institutions and providing access to justice for all. Strong institutions, inclusive and participatory decision making and non-discriminatory laws and policies are essential building blocks of societies that promote and protect breastfeeding and enable mothers to achieve the kind of breastfeeding experience they strive for.

Despite this, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), breastfeeding mothers are often overlooked as a population requiring non-discriminatory laws and policies that enable them to succeed in breastfeeding their babies for 6 months exclusively, and for up to 2 years alongside solid foods, as recommended by the World Health Organization(WHO).

ICM also notes that by working in collaboration, health providers can move toward a common goal which helps to decrease conflict, and further encourages a woman and her new infant to be treated as a holistic dyad, rather than as two patients with competing health interests. ICM states too that health care providers who collaborate are more likely to present a unified message to women and families when discussing infant nutrition. Given that women often report being confused by the conflicting information they receive about breastfeeding from different health care providers, improving the consistency of this important messaging can help to break down cultural barriers, thereby improving breastfeeding success rates.

Making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies is a team effort, and we all have a role to play. Ensuring that mothers and babies can live and thrive healthily and happily is a goal we should all be striving towards, and we will reach that goal much faster when we join our hands and work together – as partners.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

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