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World Breastfeeding Week 2020: Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet

Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet. Although this theme was created before the first news reports of COVID, equitable access to human milk is now more important than ever. 

1 August marks the first day of World Breastfeeding Week, sponsored by ILCA partner World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). Celebrated for seven days through 7 August, check back at Lactation Matters for action steps you can take around key strategies, including universal access to lactation support and building knowledge at all levels.

Share your celebration, learn more, and find the action kit all here on the World Breastfeeding Week website.

Breastfeeding and planetary health

The concept of planetary health has been defined as ‘the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends’. The interconnected nature of people and the planet requires that we find sustainable solutions that benefit both.

Sustainable development meets the needs of the current generation without compromising future generations. Breastfeeding is key to all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Food and feeding matter

Climate change and environmental degradation are some of the most urgent challenges facing our world today. Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) – carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and others due to human activity – have increased global temperatures by over 1℃ since pre-industrial times. Interestingly, GHG emissions appear to have dropped due to the impact of our responses to another urgent challenge, the more immediate COVID-19 pandemic. Several lessons can be learned from that and applied to the challenge of climate change. Environmental degradation resulting from pollutants in the air, water or food supply, the over-utilisation of scarce resources, excessive waste and the destruction of habitats is often caused by human activity. Our food production systems and consumption patterns are significant contributors to climate change and environmental degradation. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are all affected and an immediate coordinated societal response is required. We can all do something to reduce our carbon footprint (CFP) and ecological footprint starting with how we feed our babies. Ongoing health emergencies such as COVID-19 also pose challenges that affect infant feeding.

Investing in support for breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the best investments for saving infant lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations. Creating an enabling environment for optimal infant and young child feeding patterns is a societal imperative.

So, what is needed to create an enabling environment and improve breastfeeding practices? Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding are all important strategies at structural, settings and individual levels (see diagram below). Coordinated actions for optimal infant feeding during normal times and in emergencies are essential to ensure that the nutritional needs of all babies are met.

Supporting breastfeeding has short- and long-term impact on planetary health. It is an urgent imperative and we must intensify the conversations, call for more robust research and engage all relevant sectors to take action. There is an ongoing need to advocate for breastfeeding as a public health intervention that saves lives and prevents infections and illnesses in the population at large. It is our duty as global citizens to act.

#WBW2020 matters now more than ever!

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