World Breastfeeding Week 2017

Sustaining Breastfeeding Together: How our grantee partners are supporting mothers in their communities

“World Breastfeeding Week is a vibrant global movement for action to promote, protect and support breastfeeding by anyone, anywhere and at anytime. It expands and connects the power of one with the power of many. Only by working together can we make the change we need.” -Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazel, Chairperson Emertius, WABA & Director, Right Livelihood College

World Breastfeeding Week is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), a global network working to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide.” This year, World Breastfeeding Week is focused on “sustainable partnership” — asking advocates, activists and decision-makers to collaborate on the ways in which they can better promote and support mothers who choose to breastfeed.

We know that sustaining breastfeeding for as long as the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend proves to be a great challenge for mothers — both in the U.S. and around the world. For many, breastfeeding can be impossible especially when it’s painful, if there are educational or cultural barriers, when there is a lack of support from the family or workplace, or when there’s a lack of healthcare providers available. When challenges become insurmountable, many mothers give up even when they wish they could sustain it.

Women are also unable or choose not to breastfeed for a variety of other reasons:

  • Malnutrition, dehydration and poor health means some women cannot establish 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
  • Encouragement by formula makers to choose bottle over breast
  • 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.

We asked a few of our grantee partners what breastfeeding is like for women in their communities. Their insight can help us better understand the challenges mothers face when they choose breastfeeding, and the best ways in which we can help them overcome these challenges.


Photo by Monique Jaques for Every Mother Counts during visit with Midwives for Haiti

Nadene Brunk, CNM, MSN is Founder and Executive Director of Midwives for Haiti, a program we support in Haiti to train skilled birth attendants, provide comprehensive maternal health care and more.

Nadene says: “Breastfeeding is culturally acceptable and an economic necessity for most Haitian women who cannot afford formula. Very few Haitian women have full-time employment that takes them away from their babies, and those that do can generally afford childcare and formula. Many sell produce or sundry items on the street and keep their babies with them and it’s rare for women to pump because no one has breast pumps.

Most breastfeed for at least six months, but lack of adequate information is a big problem. Many mothers won’t start breastfeeding until their milk comes in, which contributes to poor milk supply and leads them to supplementing with ground foods way earlier than their baby is ready. That leads to diarrhea, dehydration and sometimes death. Babies can starve when their mother has what we consider very basic breastfeeding problems.

About 70% of Haitian babies are born at home and the only support their mothers get is whatever the family can give. For mothers who deliver at hospitals, most are discharged without any breastfeeding information. Haitian doctors don’t get any breastfeeding training at all, so technically, the only women who get any professional breastfeeding support are the ones lucky enough to be delivered by a midwife.

That’s partly why we started a postpartum program with three full-time midwives who see about 92 percent of the women who deliver at Ste Therese Hospital. They do thorough mother-baby exams and provide lots of teaching about breastfeeding, danger signs, how to get a good latch and the importance of having a one-week check up to make sure baby’s weight is increasing. Every hospital in Haiti needs programs like this but we don’t believe it exists anywhere else.”


Photo by Josh Estey for Every Mother Counts during visit with HOPE Foundation in Bangaldesh

Ashley Pugh is Program Officer at HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh where our grant helps provides women with the full range of pregnancy care.

Pugh says, “Most women in Bangladesh plan to breastfeed but sustaining it is a multifaceted issue. They learn about breastfeeding from their mother-in-law, friends or family. That’s not to say the information is accurate though. Mothers who receive antenatal care are more knowledgeable than those who don’t but only 12.7 percent of rural Bangladeshi women receive three antenatal care visits; 15.9 percent receive two; 19.9 percent receive only one and 25.3 percent receive no antenatal healthcare at all. Ninety-eight percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding, but only 64 percent exclusively breastfeed during the first six months and babies are often fed other products, like honey. Most mothers continue nursing until they wean at age two. In most cases, work doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding because in rural communities, most women stay home and take care of family duties. I recently read though that female garment factory workers in Bangladesh have no way to express breast milk (no breast pumps) or store it properly (no refrigeration). Providing adequate information and breastfeeding support is a big part of our program with EMC.”


Photo by Monique Jaques, during training of Syrian midwives in Gaziantep, Tyrkey

Sera Bonds is Founder and Executive Director of Circle of Health International, where our emergency grant provides advanced training for Syrian midwives who work with Syrian refugees.

Sera says, “Currently, about one in ten Syrian refugees is pregnant and about 70% of Syrian women attempt to breastfeed. Fewer than 25 percent make it to six months though because they don’t have adequate food, water or support. For Syrian mothers, success is linked with positive attitudes about breastfeeding within the extended family, their previous breastfeeding experience, and with having a supportive partner. Working mothers don’t usually breastfeed in Syria because it’s not considered something that professional women can manage.”

Every Mother Counts supports breastfeeding by funding grants that help women access maternal healthcare and the information they need to choose breastfeeding, safe bottle-feeding or both. Our goal is to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere, and breastfeeding possible for every mother who wants to.

Learn more here.

Topics: Breastfeeding, Mental Health, Pregnancy, World Breastfeeding Week