Empower parents, enable breastfeeding  

Fahmida Hashem   | Published: August 05, 2019 22:17:43 | Updated: August 06, 2019 22:22:47

Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike. Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800,000 lives every year, the majority being children under six-months old. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding from one hour after birth until a baby is six-months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing breastfeeding till two years or beyond.  

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated every year from August 01 till 07 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. The event is organised every year by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), a global network that aims to protect, promote and support breastfeeding around the world. It also works with the WHO and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to get its aid to the right people in the right communities. This year's World Breastfeeding Week slogan is "Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding". The objectives of this year's WBW are -  

* Inform people about the links between gender-equitable parental social protections and breastfeeding.

* Anchor parent-friendly values and gender-equitable social norms at all levels to support breastfeeding

* Engage with individuals and organisations for greater impact 

* Galvanise action on gender equitable parental social protection to advance breastfeeding

Empowerment is a process that requires evidence-based unbiased information and support to create an enabling environment where mothers can breastfeed optimally. Breastfeeding is in the mother's domain and when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities support her, breastfeeding improves.

Many barriers to optimal breastfeeding exist, one of the largest being lack of support for parents at work. Other family members, relatives and others can all support this process, as breastfeeding is a team effort. To enable breastfeeding we all need to protect, promote and support it.

Breastfeeding is one of the best investments in saving lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations. Although global breastfeeding initiation rates are relatively high, and despite international recommendations, only 40 per cent of all babies fewer than 6-months are exclusively breastfed and 45 per cent continue breastfeeding up to 24 months. Concerted actions are needed in order to achieve the World Health Assembly (WHA) target of at least 50 per cent exclusive breastfeeding for 6-months by 2025.

Management at workplaces can also contribute to the process. Research shows that paid maternity leave policies could help reduce infant mortality by 13 per cent through each additional month of maternity leave. Fathers who are given paternity leave will be able to work with mothers and shape a better parenting team. Fathers can learn and be taught co-parenting strategies for supporting breastfeeding that are sensitive to what the mother wants and needs. Some stakeholders who can ensure a supportive environment to empower parents and enable breastfeeding are as follows:

  1. A) POLICY & DECISION-MAKERS: They can implement global guidance and national policies that promote flexible and family-friendly workplaces to support breastfeeding and promote tools for engaging fathers that could be adapted and used globally in breastfeeding programmes. Such policies can ensure non-transferable parental leave for all parents, including fathers/partners, during children's infancy to ensure support for breastfeeding and ensure that the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes are fully implemented and monitored.
  2. B) ADVOCACY GROUPS: These groups can create a warm chain of support for breastfeeding by linking community peer groups and healthcare providers. They can also work with governments to review and improve national laws that cover maternity and parental social protection to support optimal breastfeeding and engage with trade unions and employers to implement breastfeeding-friendly workplaces by establishing support facilities such as breastfeeding rooms, and flexible work hours. These groups can seek the help of media and community platforms to raise awareness about breastfeeding and the ways these can be helpful for families as well as communities.
  3. C) PARENTS: Parents can seek information on optimal breastfeeding from the local midwife, doctor or lactation consultant during the antenatal period, If the father/partner and family members are informed about breastfeeding goals, they can provide support; find out what kind of practical help may be needed along the way; use the time during maternity leave or parental leave to establish breastfeeding and plan for return to work and dedicate their efforts alongside colleagues and trade unions to advocate for maternity, parental and breastfeeding rights at the workplace. In the end, we all need to work together so that parents can be empowered and are enabled to continue breastfeeding properly and as required.


Fahmida Hashem is a consulting nutritionist & Assistant Creative Director of Protishabda Communications



Share if you like