After he was born, I had trouble getting him to latch on. The lactation consultant at the hospital wasn’t all that helpful and the nurses made me feel like I was going to starve him to death if I didn’t feed him. So we gave him a bottle. I tried to breastfeed a few more times to no avail. I felt a little defeated, but I wasn’t devastated. I didn’t really know any of the benefits of breastfeeding.
A couple years later when I was pregnant with my second son, things were different. I had friends who touted the benefits of breastfeeding and really encouraged me to try it again. My OB had also joined a new practice and was now delivering babies at a different hospital, a “Baby-Friendly” hospital.
My experience was completely different this time. The staff encouraged me to breastfeed within the first hour of my sons life and exclusively until it was well established. They offered lactation support 24/7 and all the nurses were well educated about breastfeeding. Through all the encouragement and support, I was successful. My son was weaned off of breast milk a few months ago, but I am still so thankful for my wonderful experience in the hospital.
I was lucky to get the support that I needed, but many women are not. Only 6.7 % of births in the U.S. occur in “Baby-Friendly” facilities that meet international guidelines for supporting breastfeeding.
Mothers everywhere should have access to information that allows them to make an informed choice about breastfeeding, and the support they need to breastfeed should they choose to.
While there are many benefits to breastfeeding here in the U.S, in developing countries it could be a matter of life and death. In a new report titled, “Superfood for Babies” by Save the Children, they look at how hundreds of thousands of babies lives could be saved each year through breastfeeding and what it will take to get there. The report finds that starting breastfeeding earlier can make a big difference. Breastfeeding within the first hour of your babies life is the most significant. The colostrum, or first milk, jump starts the babies immune system and more often leads to extended breastfeeding, which could protect against malnutrition.
The report found these 4 major barriers that women face in breastfeeding:
Cultural and community pressures.
Many cultures discard the colostrum. In India this often relates to religious belief, but also that it is thick, unclean and the removal helped the child suckle more easily. In Afghanistan, people believe it should be discarded because it’s been in the breast for 9-10 months. In Niger, tradition says that colostrum is dangerous for infants and should be thrown away.
Many women are not empowered to make their own health decisions – in a Sierra Leone survey 47% reported that this was the case.
Global health worker shortage.
The World Health Organization has estimated the global health worker shortage at more than 3 million and one third of moms give birth with no skilled health worker present.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative launched by WHO and UNICEF in 1991 to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Facilities must implement “10 steps to successful breastfeeding” to get the designation.
Lack of maternity legislation.
For the “Superfood for Babies” report, Save the Children commissioned research to look at maternity protection in the 36 low-income countries with the highest number of malnourished children. It looked at whether maternity leave met the International Labor Organization (ILO) minimum standards (14 weeks leave moving toward a recommended 18), financial protections and policies to accommodate breastfeeding women at work.
Only Vietnam met 18 weeks leave. Only 10 countries exceeded 14 weeks.
Most of the 38 industrialized countries provide the recommended 2/3 pay during maternity leave, 5 countries provide between 30 (Japan) and 60 (Czech Republic) percent. In Australia and Denmark, maternity leave is funded by employers, but in the U.S. there is no requirement at all that women be paid while on maternity leave, although some employers choose to.
Aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes.
The International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes (“The Code”) was created by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and has been updated numerous times since. It is a set of minimum standards to promote and protect breastfeeding and ensure breast-milk substitutes are used safely if needed. Provisions include no advertising of breast-milk substitutes or promotional materials, no free samples to mothers, their families or health workers, no gifts to health workers, labels must state the superiority of breastfeeding and give a warning about health hazards, no pictures of infants or other pictures idealizing the use of formula, no direct contact with moms by marketing personnel.Breastfeeding is critical to preventing malnutrition and saving children’s lives in the developing world. Breastfeeding immediately after birth could help save 830,000 newborn babies from dying a year, and exclusive breastfeeding for six months could save even more babies and children.
- In China, 40% of mothers that were interviewed had been contacted directly by baby food company representatives.
- In Pakistan, 1/3 of health professionals said they’d been visited by a representative of breast-milk substitute companies and 1/10 of health professionals said their health facility had received free samples of formula, nipples or bottles.
- In Sri Lanka, it was found that breast-milk substitute companies operate an incentives scheme for midwives, including offers of money and foreign travel in return for selling formula.
Many families in impoverished communities around the world have been getting great support from the 1,000 Days Call to Action – an initiative led by the U.S. government. But, it is set to expire soon – unless we speak out!
www.savethechildren.org/1000-days to sign the petition and tell the Secretary of State, John Kerry to demand renewal of the 1,000 Days Call to Action!
Let’s make nutrition a priority!