Breastmilk Feeding Awareness Week

Throughout the world, breastfeeding is recognized as a real and sustainable action to reduce infant malnutrition and enhance food security. Every August, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) lead efforts to recognize importance of breastfeeding.

Posted under: Maternal Health, Other

Yes, notice I wrote Breastmilk Feeding Awareness Week…we’ll get back to that shortly.

Every August, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) lead efforts to recognize and support the importance of breastfeeding throughout the world. In fact, August 1 -7 historically is considered to be World Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Throughout the world, breastfeeding is recognized as a real and sustainable action to reduce infant malnutrition and enhance food security, In fact, many organizations worldwide recognize this week as the celebration of the anniversary of the 1990 Innocenti Declaration, the UNICEF Declaration on the Protection, Promotion, and Support of Breastfeeding.

There are many initiatives across the United States to support the importance of breastfeeding during this awareness week and month, including supporting laws and legislation to make breastfeeding more available and normalized in our society; highlighting significant racial and ethnic disparities in breastfeeding initiation and sustained efforts through infancy; and promoting the undisputed health benefits for both mother and baby.

Congress Finally Takes Action for Its Own…In 2018
On April 18, 2018, the United States Senate voted unanimously to allow newborns on the Senate floor with their parent. Senator Tammy Duckworth had given birth one month earlier and wanted to bring her newborn daughter to the Senate floor to cast her vote. Up until that time, no newborns were allowed in the Senate chambers. And later that April day, Senator Duckworth brought her newborn with her to cast her vote and would continue to bring her daughter with her for Senate business. When asked if she had plans to breastfeed her daughter on the Senate floor, Senator Duckworth responded:

“I’ll do whatever I need to both do my job and take care of my daughter. That’s what most moms and dads would do. The rule change also allows a male senator to bring his newborn onto the floor if he wants to bottle-feed.”

There were many within the public forum that deeply appreciated Senator Duckworth’s sentiments and comments. And finally, the United States Senate made the very appropriate decision to allow breastfeeding on the Senate floor to allow mothers to continue to support their newborns and their constituents (this also brings up the topic of paid family leave to support bonding and breastfeeding, but that is another blog topic). There were also those who were diametrically opposed to “bottle-feeding” and wanted to address the use of the term “bottle-feeding” in that context and were concerned of the unintentional impact on breastfeeding, and if some would see Senator Duckworth’s statements as a form of promoting bottle-feeding rather than breastfeeding.

So, Back to Breastmilk Feeding Awareness Week
Over time, we have also come to realize that babies are fed breastmilk in varied ways, and not simply through the breast. There are many circumstances whereby newborns and babies are fed breastmilk, including: (not exhaustive):

  1. Newborns in the NICU who receive pumped breastmilk via artificial nipple, orogastric or nasogastric tube, syringe, cup, or other devices.

  2. Parents who have returned to work and are pumping breastmilk to feed their newborn via artificial nipple.

  3. Adoptive families.

  4. LGBTQ+ families.

  5. Survivors of sexual trauma.

These are just a few of the reasons parents may not be able to breastfeed, but still want to offer their newborns the benefits of breastmilk. And while there has been overwhelming research to support and promote the nutritional and physical benefits of breastfeeding, we cannot ignore the fact that babies may be fed breastmilk by means other than a breast. Chestfeeding is also becoming normalized in infant nutrition and must be considered within these important discussions.

The use of donor human milk (DHM) could be its own blog discussion. There are for-profit, not-for-profit, and other breastmilk banking companies, as well as online communities that facilitate breastmilk sharing. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) accredits nonprofit milk banks throughout the US and Canada and is a resource for parents across the United States (and has become a much more visible organization with the recent infant formula shortage).

Speaking of donor human milk (DHM), it is also very important to consider the disparities that exist with the use of DHM and location. For example, safety net hospitals, or those with higher Medicaid utilization, tend to use less DHM than other facilities. Interestingly, 14 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to cover the use of DHM for very low birth weight babies and for specific conditions. The costs of purchasing donor human milk can be very prohibitive and providing breastmilk nutrition to families seeking its nutritional value should not be seen as a luxury.

Therefore, I’d like to propose a change to Breastmilk Awareness Week, or Breastmilk Feeding Awareness Month. We must widen our aperture to be more inclusive and aware of the benefits of breastmilk feeding for families who may not be able to feed their baby directly from the breast for any variety of reasons. We shame women enough…for breastfeeding in public, taking too many breaks to express breastmilk, not breastfeeding long enough, or for too long, or (you fill in the blank). We must also be mindful of the advocacy to ensure the availability of donor breastmilk for non-NICU families that is not out of reach due to cost.

We have spent the past few months having very deep and passionate conversations about women’s bodies and women’s choices. If a parent wants to feed a baby breastmilk via the breast, artificial nipple, syringe, cup, or another feeding device, we should welcome and support their choice.

Welcome to Breastmilk Feeding Awareness Month.

Share this article:
< Back to NPIC blog home