World Breastfeeding Week 2015 — Let’s Make It Work

World Breastfeeding Week 2015 examines the challenges and solutions for breastfeeding at work.

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, an annual event coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and supported by a coalition of organizations including UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, La Leche League and the International Lactation Consultant Association. This year’s theme, Breastfeeding and Work, calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work.

For women all over the world, one of the biggest contributors for not breastfeeding is their inability to combine breastfeeding and work. This universal challenge includes women no matter where their responsibilities lie — at home taking care of other children and family members, in an office, farm, hospital, school or other business venture. Women require adequate time, support and space to nurse their babies or to pump and store milk. When women can’t take enough maternity leave or enough time during their workday to nurse or pump, they often have no choice but to give up breastfeeding.

A World Health Bulletin titled: Breastfeeding policy: a globally comparative analysis looked at several global variables to determine contributors to high and low breastfeeding rates in 182 countries. They found that regardless of literacy rates, GDP or urban/rural location, high-income countries have the lowest breastfeeding rates and low-income countries have the highest. They also determined that countries where women make up a high percentage of the workforce and have national policies guaranteeing breastfeeding breaks also have higher breastfeeding rates.

In countries where women have paid maternity leave and medical and social breastfeeding support (Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Australia, for instance), breastfeeding rates are very high. In the US, where there’s no paid maternity leave, most women initiate breastfeeding but few continue for the long haul.

Any woman who has successfully bridged the breastfeeding-workplace gap is familiar with the challenges of breast pumping, nursing breaks, milk storage and milk supply. Mothers who’ve breastfed for the fully recommended two years have strategies that make breastfeeding possible.

That’s why this week WABA is calling for:

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They also outline these basic elements of support for all mothers who choose to breastfeed:

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Breastfeeding 101 — The Facts

The World Health Organization says that if every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800,000 children’s lives would be saved every year. Yet both here in the U.S. and around the world, that’s a goal many women simply can’t meet.

Who is breastfeeding?

  • In developing countries: According to UNICEF: Only 39% of all infants 0–5 months of age are exclusively breastfed. Of those who start breastfeeding, less than 60% of 6-to 9-month-olds continued to be breastfed.
  • In developed countries: Save The Children’s Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard for Developed Countries shows how many women are breastfeeding in industrialized countries. Norway is at the top of the list with 99% of mothers initiating breastfeeding, 70% still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and 80% still breastfeeding at least some at six months

How about in the U.S.?

  • According to the CDC, about 77% of U.S. mothers start out breastfeeding but only 49% are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and only 27% at 12 months. Mississippi has the lowest breastfeeding initiation rate at 50.5% and Idaho has the highest at 91.8%.

Who isn’t breastfeeding?

Many women are unable or choose not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons:

  • Malnutrition, dehydration and poor health means some women cannot establish or maintain an adequate milk supply.
  • Nipple or breast injuries, surgeries or defects that make milk production or nursing impossible.
  • Inaccurate beliefs that formula is healthier nutritionally or that breast milk isn’t enough
  • Lack of support and education about nutrition, breastfeeding techniques, health and hygiene issues.
  • Cultural opinions that breastfeeding is unhygienic or immodest.
  • Personal aversion caused by pain, anxiety or discomfort during breastfeeding, trauma or history of abuse
  • Persistent beliefs that breastfeeding can transfer HIV to a baby despite global health authorities directives that even HIV positive mothers should breastfeed.

As we continue to support World Breastfeed Week, we will be featuring an interview with Jessica Shortall, author of the soon-to-be-released book, Work. Pump. Repeat.: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work (Abrams Image, September 8, 2015). Check the blog later this week.

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