World Breastfeeding Week

PosterWorld Breastfeeding Week is promoted by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, an international organization created to promote, support, and protect breastfeeding around the world. I have volunteered to participate in a collective blogging campaign to raise awareness over this issue that might seem trivial to many of us, but is of vital importance to children and families around the world.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF advocate breastfeeding for infants up to 6 months old, and continued breastfeeding with the introduction of complementary foods until age 2 or beyond.  Babies who are breastfed need no other foods or liquids, not even water, since breastmilk provide all the nutrients they need to develop.

I come from a very large family. My mother has six sisters and my father has three sisters and four brothers. I was the second-oldest grandchild on my mother’s side of the family and among the oldest on my father’s side. It seems to me I grew up around babies, cotton diapers drying at my grandmother’s backyard and watching my aunts breastfeeding their children. The latter was always considered the normal, natural thing for mothers to do. It shocks me now to see how difficult it is for so many women to do such a natural thing. The WHO recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed and that they should be breastfed on demand – that is, whenever they want it, day or night. That seems a very difficult thing for women to do nowadays. Thinking back, none of my aunts worked. What would they have done now, working full time with only 16 weeks of maternity leave, which is what they have in Brazil? One of my sister-in-laws had only three months with her baby since she had to start her maternity leave a month before the child was born, due to complications with her pregnancy. She wasn’t able to breastfeed for very long. One of my good friends lives in the US, where she has NO maternity leave. None at all. Luckily, she’s a professor and will try to time her pregnancy so that the baby can be born in the beginning of the summer so she can have some time with him/her. In many countries (I’ve heard of cases here in Canada and in the US), women are asked to leave if they try to breastfeed in public.  Clearly, governments and the workforce need to adapt before women in much of the world can put in practice the WHO/UNICEF recommendations.

While women have successfully entered the workforce and acquired many rights over the past century, there are still many barriers to be overcome. I think Canada is moving on the right track by giving women a one-year maternity leave. But it wasn’t that long ago that a woman in Alberta was fired for wanting to continue to breastfeed her child. And breastfeeding in public continues to be a challenge to Canadian women. The path is arduous, but through the tireless work of women like Denise, we’ll get there…

During this year’s Dyke Parade, I was very happy to see this image on one of the floats going down Yonge Street:

Dyke Parade 2007