Forget the ‘Mommy Wars’ – Breastfeeding Inequality is the Real Issue

Too many heated words and firey tweets are being spent on the breastfeeding ‘mommy war’. It needs to stop.

Whether or not a well-educated and well-off mother chooses to breastfeed is not the big issue. The real problem – one impacting tens of thousands of lives – is breastfeeding inequality. Too many mothers are NOT getting equal opportunity to breastfeed.

Did you know that in the US, breastfeeding rates vary wildly from state to state? In Louisiana, 57% of infants are ever breastfed. In California, it’s 93%. That’s a huge difference.

It’s no surprise that Louisiana is one of the poorest states while California is one of the wealthiest. In fact, socioeconomic forces drastically affect breastfeeding rates. This visual guide by WeTheParents brings the shocking reality of breastfeeding inequality into focus.

Women born into socioeconomic hardship tend to have lower family income, lower level of education, and lower breastfeeding rates.

It’s not fair for the baby or the mother.

Some of the reasons for reduced breastfeeding are:

  • Less access to paid maternity leave
  • Lower paid jobs that are less likely to allow for pumping breaks
  • Inadequate maternity and lactation support in hospital
  • Less effective family and community support
  • A culture that doesn’t treat breastfeeding as a desirable status symbol (in contrast to the ‘crunchy mommies’).

The problem is intensified because babies born into conditions of hardship are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, parental involvement, and nutritious supplementary food once weaning begins.

This means that the babies who would benefit most from breastmilk are the ones least likely to get it.

Mothers Unite

This week is World Breastfeeding Week organized by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). It is the perfect opportunity to begin reframing the debate.

The mommy wars are a distraction. Let’s not waste valuable energy debating whether or not a well-off, middle-class mother is right to breastfeed her child. Yes, breast is best, but it’s likely her child will get a good start in life either way.

Mothers, let’s all come together and fight for breastfeeding equality. Surely we can all agree, that if a woman wants to breastfeed, she should be given the best possible chance to do so. The fact that less well-off mothers often don’t have the same knowledge or opportunities to breastfeed their babies is simply not right.

Instead of dividing along tribal lines, let’s unite and push for all mothers to have the same access to breastfeeding information, support, and workplace lactation programmes. It’s this that will really drive up breastfeeding rates and improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

And so, the next time you find yourself caught up in breastfeeding guerrilla warfare taking place within the comments section of some blog, remember the real issue: breastfeeding inequality.

Neve is a mother of two, writer and breastfeeding advocate. You can find her trying to simplify parenting and empower new moms to meet their breastfeeding goals over at her blog WeTheParents.

 

U.S. Opposes Global Breastfeeding Resolution

If it seems like the world is crying over spilled milk right now, I promise it’s much more than that. In May this year, a global breastfeeding resolution was passed at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, but not without a fight.

What Happened?

As recently reported by the New York Times, the proposed World Health Organization (WHO) resolution aimed to limit the marketing of breastmilk alternatives, and to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding”. An American delegation attempted to block the resolution, and made threats of trade measures and cuts to military aid to countries planning to introduce the measure. This, naturally, made other nations hesitant to support the resolution.

Ultimately, Russia proposed the final resolution, though U.S. delegates successfully had language removed stating the WHO would support nations discouraging misleading promotion by formula companies.

Why It Matters

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition through a baby’s first year of life. Breastfeeding provides benefits for both baby and mother. In fact, breastmilk could lead to lowered risk of asthma, type 2 diabetes, and obesity in babies and lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancers in moms.

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Save the Children in poorer regions of the Philippines found four large formula companies (Nestlé, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth) to be enticing health workers to promote formula in addition to distributing pamphlets disguised as medical advice to mothers. Although this is an explicit violation of the WHO’s international code, formula promotion persists in poorer countries where mothers are less informed about breastfeeding benefits.

Soon after transitioning in 2017, the new American administration re-enacted the global gag rule, prohibiting international non-profits receiving U.S. government funding from sharing abortion service information. Now the U.S. is supporting pro-formula companies over policies promoting global childhood nutrition.

This is not just another example of prioritizing private profit over public health, but rather, yet another infringement upon women’s rights.

While there are, of course, circumstances where choosing formula over breastmilk may be the best option for mother and child, every mother deserves to make her own informed decision, and country delegations should support that globally.

World Breastfeeding Week 2017 – Sustaining Breastfeeding Together

“Breastfeeding for me was synonymous to giving life” – Felogene, mother, Kenya

Breastfeeding is a core part of many new mothers’ lives, and it is an experience that is different for everyone. Yet the benefits of breastfeeding are universal and the barriers to breastfeeding are many, persisting across cultures and communities around the world. Women need partners to make breastfeeding work – partnerships ranging from close family to the health workforce, to workplaces and the public sphere. Furthermore, multi-level partnerships are necessary to ensure that breastfeeding is a central component in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

In line with the Sustainable Development Agenda, World Breastfeeding Week, led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, covers four Thematic Areas, which are reviewed in detail in relation to essential partnerships and paired with key action points to help us all get engaged and working together to reach our common goals by 2030.

NUTRITION, FOOD SECURITY AND POVERTY REDUCTION

“In 2016, the United Nations placed nutrition at the heart of sustainable development by declaring 2016-2025 as the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. Breastfeeding is a non-negotiable component of this globally intensified action to end malnutrition.” – writes Mia Ydholm.

SURVIVAL, HEALTH AND WELLBEING

“Breastfeeding is a fundamental driver in achieving the SDGs as it plays a significant role in improving maternal and child health, survival and wellbeing. One year into the implementation of the SDGs, we must work together to level the playing field.” – Every Woman Every Child.

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE

“Like in so many other areas of our lives – especially as women – we are bombarded by marketing telling us how to look, how to behave and what life-changing decisions to make. Breastfeeding is not excluded from this. The detrimental environmental impact of breastmilk substitutes is a responsibility for all of us to bear – not mothers alone.” – writes Julia Wiklander.

WOMEN’S PRODUCTIVITY AND EMPLOYMENT

“Full equality will not be reached at home or in the workforce until men and boys globally take on 50 percent of the unpaid care and domestic work.” – MenCare

“The reason why I am breastfeeding is, first of all, because I can, and because there are so many benefits for my baby and for myself.” – Kristina, mother, Sweden

Girls’ Globe is committed to ensuring that all mothers have the information, support and protection they need to breastfeed, if they choose to do so. Throughout the month of August, we will be sharing posts, videos and more in line with World Breastfeeding Week’s main objectives. Find more on our campaign page and follow on social media with #WBW2017.

Midwives Made Me Feel Like Not Going Home

I have met both considerate and not so considerate midwives. Without a doubt, the majority have belonged to the first category, and to those who haven’t been as caring – I don’t blame you. I admire the work that you do, the long hours you spend in the delivery rooms, the paperwork you need to put up with. I admire all of it.  

I have nothing but respect for midwives and I feel tremendously grateful to live in Sweden, a country where healthcare is equally accessible to all. Not once during my pregnancy nor the delivery did I feel fear, in fact I felt quite the opposite. I really did feel that I was in safe hands all the way through – from planning the pregnancy to the postpartum period.

I had quite an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, more or less, but I won’t deny that I was exhausted (to say the least) when our daughter was finally born.

The midwives made be feel so comfortable in the patient hotel right after delivery that I almost did not want to go home. Home – which is otherwise the only place I want to be in times of exhaustion, insecurity or stress.

Knowing that they were right there, only a few footsteps away, gave me a strong sense of security. When my husband left the patient hotel for the first time, I recall the feelings of nervousness and insecurity that started to creep up on me. I was carrying our daughter in my arms when suddenly one of her legs turned completely blue. I panicked. I ran out in the hallway and screamed for help, and a midwife in her late 50s quickly came up to me: “You’re just holding her a little bit too tight, dear. Don’t you worry, she’s perfectly fine.” Her humble smile and reassuring stroke on my shoulder calmed me down in an instant.

On our second (and last) night in the hotel, the breastfeeding marathon was real. My breasts were crazy swollen, lumpy and aching and my daughter did not want to latch on properly. It was the middle of the night, I hadn’t slept for 48 hours and the tears seemed unstoppable. I felt inadequate for not being able to calm my daughter down when she screamed as if I was hurting her, while all I was trying my hardest to do was to please her.

This time, another midwife came to our room and, again, told me not to worry so much. “Let me hold her for you, and just try to relax for a moment. It’ll be alright, this is absolutely normal.” Then she helped me finding a comfortable position for breastfeeding while lying down, and put my daughter to my breast. The screaming party was finally over, and at last I felt as if I was able to breathe properly again.

Midwives provided me with their invaluable knowledge, skills and help, and I am forever thankful for the time they spent taking care of me and my family.

Obviously, we did eventually leave the patient hotel, but I’ll admit that I would’ve gladly stayed longer – in the safe hands of the midwives there. 

Girls’ Globe will be present at the 31st International Confederation of Midwives Triennial Congress – bringing you live coverage from Toronto, Canada via our #ICMLive hub. To keep up to date with all the action, use #ICMLive to engage online.