Breastfeeding in today’s changing world: are you playing your role?

5th September 2014
To commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, Rufaro Charity Madzima, Independent IYCF consultant, writes for Eldis on the importance of everyone playing a role in supporting breastfeeding mothers.

This year we celebrate the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) campaign exactly 22 years after it was launched by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) to focus and facilitate actions that protect, promote and support breastfeeding in all countries. The theme, “Breastfeeding: a winning goal for life!” responds to the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) countdown in the post 2015 agenda, involving different groups of various ages.

 When your baby is bornAs the World Cup brought together people of all nations in Brazil, the 2014 WBW’s theme is aimed at engaging as many groups and people of various ages as possible among all nations of the world. This brings a personal question to everyone; “What role are you playing?” Specifically, this year’s WBW aims at informing how the MDGs relate to breastfeeding and Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) for both genders of various ages, in today’s changing world.

During the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, the eight MDGs were adopted to fight poverty and promote healthy and sustainable development by 2015. Although progress has been made towards achieving some MDGs, there has been consensus that there is still some unfinished business. Poverty is still prevalent in some communities and sustainable development is still to be achieved by all.

One cannot argue against the fact that breastfeeding has been linked to the improved cognitive and mental development, growth and physical development of a child, in preparation of a successful life. However, it is essential to recognise that breastfeeding is intrinsically linked to all eight MDGs, not just MDG four and five which mainly focus on child mortality and maternity health. For instance, the link between breastfeeding and MDG 8 on global partnership for development is illustrated by the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (GSIYCF), which has fostered partnerships among United Nations agencies, local and international NGOs, local community groups and countries’ governments in IYCF programmes.

Previous programmes have shown that exclusive breastfeeding followed with appropriate, adequate, safe and timely complementary foods can save about 20 out of 100 under-five children from dying. However, worryingly, few mothers are able to exclusively breastfeed their babies in today’s world, where child care has diminished enormously due to women’s increased responsibilities in society, where young mothers have shunned the breastfeeding culture, and as a result of inadequate support structures from society at large, among other factors.

As we commemorate the WBW this week, we are reminded of the challenge we have in our communities: to increase the numbers of women breastfeeding and to ensure that every baby is given a chance to live and grow well through breastfeeding. This requires more education for women, and their empowerment is essential for the key roles they play in household food and nutrition security, income generation and ultimately the growth and development of children. In addition, the factors that contribute to inadequate child care and development require interventions from multiple sectors.

Young mothers need that support and encouragement, especially given that mothers today often have a double burden of the eight-to–five work responsibilities and care responsibilities at home, as a mother and wife. This can be stressful and difficult, especially when support is lacking. Hence, everyone has a role to play in encouraging and supporting breastfeeding, be it men, the youth and the elderly; for breastfeeding is a nation’s duty.