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For several decades breastfeeding a child has been viewed as something that should be done behind closed doors. During this time many people would take a stand against the viewpoint that breastfeeding should not be done in public. In 1990, the Innocenti Declaration was produced and adopted by participants at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) policymakers’ meeting named “Breastfeeding in the 1990s: A Global Initiative.”
The meeting was co-sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) and the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA). It was held on July 30 through August 1 in 1990 at the Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence, Italy.
In 1991, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) was formed. This global network of organizations and individuals is dedicated to the promotion, support, and protection of breastfeeding worldwide — based on the Innocenti Declaration.
The Mother-Friendly Workplace Initiative(MFWI) began in1993. This group was formed to support working mothers who feed their children mothers milk. A year later the Global Participatory Action Research (GLOPAR) project was formed.
In 1996 the WABA held their first Global Forum on Children’s Health and Children’s Rights in Thailand. During this same year, the WABA introduced Ten Links For Nurturing the Future:
- Human rights and responsibilities – This link ensures food security for good health and a safe environment — especially for children and women — are fully observed in order to promote, support, and protect breastfeeding, and young child nutrition, and sound infant.
- Food Security – This link allows all women to practice exclusive breastfeeding from birth to almost six months. It also enables mothers to continue breastfeeding to at least the age of two.
- Women’s Empowerment – This link develops innovative social support systems for all mothers, including adequate maternity legislation.
- Community Participation – This link encourages the development of community support groups, not just for breastfeeding mothers, but for mothers-to-mother support groups.
- Baby-Friendly Cultures – This link ensures that the practices recommended in the “Ten Steps to Breastfeeding” as elaborated in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) are performed throughout the health care system and by traditional birth attendants.
- Integrity – This link is when sponsorship, support, or gifts from manufacturers of baby feeding products and accessories are refused. It also condemns advertising that exploits women’s bodies and the use of products that cause waste and/or harms the environment.
- International Code – This link pushes for the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent pertinent World Health Assembly Resolutions through the adoption and enforcement of strong national legislation or regulations. It also protects health workers and consumers from misleading promotion, free trade excesses, and misinformation about Codex Alimentarius provisions.
- Advocacy – This link advocates for the application of sound national infant and young child feeding policies which include the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding, sound infant, and young child nutrition. It also involves citizens groups and the media in creating social pressure for the behavioral change towards supporting sound infant, young children nutrition, and breastfeeding women.
- Networking – This link contributes to the creation of national and local networks of individuals, organizations, and government agencies working for sound infant and young child feeding and broader issues of child care. This also links and integrates these networks with international and regional movements from all sectors of civil society that seek to nurture a sustainable future.
On May 30, 2000, the International Labour Organization had its 88th Session at Geneva by the Governing Body of the International Labour Office. During this meeting, they noted the Maternity Protection Convention and the Maternity Protection Recommendation needed to be revised.
The revisions needed to be done in order to further promote equality of all women in the workforce and the health and safety of the mother and child. They also helped to recognize the diversity in the economic and social development of Members.
In 1972, the agency Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) program began its pilot program. It became a permanent program in 1974. WIC is administered at the federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program helps ensure the health of low-income women, infants, and children — to the age of 5 — are safeguarded from malnutrition. They provide:
- Nutritious foods to supplement diets.
- Information on healthy eating.
- Referrals to health care.
- Nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. They also provide education for infants and children who are found to be at nutritional risk.
Naturally, when the WABA began its mission the WIC program joined in their efforts. Ensuring mothers the support they may need while they breastfeed is important. It can be both a beautiful and stressful time for women.
To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, each year the WABA picks a new theme. This year’s theme is “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.” The WIC office in Bangor, Maine held a Drive-Thru event.
Mitchell Kohls, WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, stated, “the event was held on August 5.” She continued by saying they will “celebrate throughout the month of August with giveaway items, however, WIC really celebrates breastfeeding every day through their dedication and support.”
Kohls was then asked, “When did the WIC program join in celebrating this week?” She responded, “Historically, the Bangor office has participated in celebrating WBW for as far as anyone currently working here can remember. Federally, WIC has supported breastfeeding dating back to the start of the program in 1972.”
Next, Kohls was asked, “This year’s theme is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility;’ What do you think about the name?”
I have always felt that we have a shared duty to our community. Supporting a parent’s right to feed how they see fit is a huge part of that. In order to properly support this right, we must spread positive and factual information throughout the community and normalize breastfeeding. This means that the shared responsibility belongs to all of us, no matter our personal feeding preference.
Guardian Liberty Voice then asked, “Why do you think it’s important for one to breastfeed?” Kohls responded, “This is a difficult question to answer, I don’t truly feel that there is only one reason someone should breastfeed. I believe that each person has their own reasons of why they want to or don’t want to. Although there are a billion benefits to breast milk, this is also a parental decision. I believe the real importance is in having an abundance of the proper information to make an informed decision that works best for each family. Personally, breastfeeding felt like a perfect decision for me, I have never thought of anything else growing up as it’s always been the first choice in my extended family. I also knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t ‘succeed in breastfeeding’. My initial intentions were to breastfeed for 6 weeks and go from there. It became important to breastfeed after that due to the extreme bond that I felt with my daughter. I saw that it was amazing for her and exactly what she needed on a day-to-day basis.”
She was then asked, “Do you feel that the pandemic has impacted people’s decision to breastfeed?” She stated, “This pandemic has been rough on everyone. I believe that it has made breastfeeding both easier and more difficult. To elaborate on that, a breastfeeding mother pre-pandemic had multiple resources both in and out of her home. With the change to less in home visits, and many doctor’s offices limiting the amount of times someone comes into the offices, we have seen less babies in person and therefore these mothers have less access to help when they need it. However, with people staying home more often, there is definitely a change in the duration of breastfeeding. I feel as though this is because there are less interruptions in the early days when everyone is learning to breastfeed.”
For new time mothers, she had this advice:
Reach out for help. Follow your instincts. As mom’s we know when something is working or not working for our babies, even in the early days. The only way to fix these issues, is to reach out to someone who has been there and done that. Most WIC offices have a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. All WIC offices have someone to assist with breastfeeding, just call your local office and they will direct you to the best person to help.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated each year from August 1 to the 7.
Written by Sheena Robertson
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action: About
U.S. Department of Agriculture: About WIC: WIC’s Mission
Interview: Mitchell Kohls, WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor
Top, Inline, and Featured Image Courtesy of Sheena Robertson