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

Author: guerson

Historian. Teacher. Knitter. Passionate for bringing people together and building bridges.

12 thoughts on “World Breastfeeding Week”

  1. OW! Thanks, Alexandra! this is a wonderful post! thanks a lot!

    Do you know that there is a possibility that Brazil will increase our (paid) maternity leave to 24 weeks? not that it means SO much since most of the poor brazilian women don’t have a formal employment, but it will help many women, it will be great anyway…

  2. that’s great Denise! I just hope it doesn’t end up costing them in the end by making it harder for young women to find jobs… I’ve heard that employers shy away from hiring women because they don’t want to pay maternity leave if they get pregnant… Here in Canada that doesn’t really happen because the employer doesn’t pay a cent for women’s maternity leave – they get the money from social security while the company is free to use the money it would have paid her to hire someone to substitute for her while she’s away.

  3. Although keep in mind that social security only pays about 55% of a person’s salary (depending on how much they make). It works out to a maximum of around $1400 for two weeks. Many companies in Canada will top it up so the employee is making about 90%, but this is not the case with all businesses. Where Bobby used to work (CIBC), they would top it up to 90% for either parent, mother or father, who chose to take leave.

    I was surprised while in Spain to only see two women breastfeeding the entire time I was there. I suspect that it is not encouraged as much or women feel embarrassed to breastfeed in public and so do it behind closed doors.

  4. Dana,

    Now that you mention it, I also don’t remember seeing women breastfeeding in Spain… which is funny since there are plenty of children and babies around, and if you go to the beach you’ll notice they are not necessarily shy about showing their breasts…

    In some countries, women are actually convinced by the baby food industry that formula is better for their children than breastmilk. Nestle was involved in a nasty case in the 1970s for their predatory campaign to promote baby formula in Africa (of all places!) using promoters dressed as nurses, who distributed their products in baby bottles in hospitals. Their campaign was so well done that breastfeeding diminished and mulnutrition increased dramatically. Apparently, they haven’t learned because the company is now doing similar things in China.

  5. The whole Nestle campaign is awful. My mother-in-law actually works for them, otherwise I would boycott their products entirely (or as much as I could). Breastfeeding is such a controversial topic these days. I’m on a message board with a number of women who were unable to breastfeed for a variety of reasons and to them, the breastfeeding campaigns are problematic because they feel like bad mothers. There needs to be some kind of happy medium where women are encouraged to breastfeed if they can, but if for some reason they are unable to, they also get support.

  6. That is very true. My mother wasn’t able to breastfeed any of us for very long – my older brother wouldn’t take to ANY sort of milk and my younger brother was too premature; I was breastfed the longest – 40 days – until my mother had some sort of problem, I forget what, and couldn’t do it any longer. Neither of my sisters-in-law were able to breastfeed for very long. My older brother’s wife tried really hard, had lumps, and the whole thing was excruciatingly painful for her. From their experiences, I realized that breastfeeding is not as “easy” as it may sound. To minimize discomfort, women need to be preparing throughout their pregnancies…

    I agree that needs to be support for those who are unable to…

  7. Besides I’ve read you’re from Brazil, I’m not sure you can read Portuguese, so I’ll write in English to build an efficient bridge.
    I’m trying to visit all the blogs in this collective blogging campaign and here I’m reading about Alberta. I have a very good friend from there and he is a very nice person, but also a very shy man. Maybe that is the point to breastfeeding in public there.
    Other Canadian connections: for a year and half I wrote for a Brazilian Magazine in Toronto called Sotaque Brasileiro and I had a “Rotary-sister” from British Colombia.
    If you read Portuguese, try to read Erica told us about breastfeeding in Japan! It seems like yours.
    Abraços brasileiros.

  8. Nossa Alex essa tua amiga que não tem maternity leave…que história mal contada, eu hein? todas as minhas conhecidas nos EUA tem direito a pelo menos 3 meses pela lei. (inclusive quem é professora universitária ou de escola primária). é bom ela se informar dos direitos legais pos pode bem ser que a administração da escola tenha dito isso a ela sem saber.

  9. Ela é professora universitária mas na universidade dela não tem… são resquicios dos dias em que professores universitarios eram todos homens… as leis nos EUA variam muito de estado pra estado; pelo que eu sei não há uma lei federal que garanta licença maternidade nos eua

  10. Hi Sam,

    Welcome to Building Bridges! Portuguese is indeed my mother tongue – I write my posts in English mostly because I have many friends in Canada and elsewhere who don’t read Portuguese.

    As for breastfeeding in Alberta, I think the reason breastfeeding in public is so problematic there and in a lot of places in North America has less to do with shyness than it has with Anglo puritan attitudes towards the body, particularly the female body.

  11. I agree entirely with you Alex on that point. I’ve heard people make comments that breastfeeding in public is immoral and “gross”!! Even women who are entirely covered up (feeding babies under blankets) are criticized in some locations. It amazing me how something as natural as breastfeeding can be viewed in such a way.

  12. I think we need only to look back at the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” to see how sick North Americans have become about the possibility of seeind a breast exposed. And really, there’s not that much breast that gets exposed when a woman is breastfeeding. The baby covers much of it!

    The “immoral” argument is what always gets me. What kind of twisted mind could think that was immoral????

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