What is World Breastfeeding Week?
Started in 1992 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is not only a celebration of nursing around the world, but also an advocacy tool to inform individuals, organizations and governments about breastfeeding as a human right and to engage those groups in making positive change for breastfeeding promotion and support. It is celebrated August 1-7 every year.
While breastfeeding rates have increased worldwide since the first WBW, targets have still not been reached in many places. Researchers think that perhaps the methods for promotion we currently use have done about all they can do - we need other systemic changes before we can see any additional increase in the percentage of moms who are able to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. Smith (2018) writes that social structures such as “gender inequality, racism, poverty and domestic violence shape whether, how exclusive, and for how long mothers and others will be able to breastfeed or feed their infants.” Until meaningful progress is made to protect and uplift breastfeeding parents, the rates of breastfeeding are unlikely to shift any higher.
Along those lines, this year’s WBW theme is ‘Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding.’ WABA suggests families can be empowered by policies supporting paid parental leave, parent-friendly workplaces, and gender equity. According to WABA, paid maternity leave can decrease infant mortality, but millions of women around the world do not have adequate maternity leave. Returning to work is one of the main reasons for weaning or for introducing formula. WABA encourages employers to not only add more generous parental leave, but also support nearby or on-site childcare or flexible work schedules that are more family-friendly - allowing mothers to breastfeed more easily and allowing fathers to be active participants in childcare. The great thing about the WBW Action Folder (linked above) is that it gives concrete steps you can take at every level, as an individual, an advocate, or a policy-maker.
In the US, in addition to WBW, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) designates August National Breastfeeding Month. This celebration widens the WBW theme and targets a different aspect each week. The 2019 theme is ‘Support Changes Everything’ with the weekly subthemes of Empowered Parents & Partners, Investing in our Future, Workplace & Work life, and Black Breastfeeding Week. The goal of the USBC is to create a social media advocacy and/or outreach campaign inviting breastfeeding coalitions, member/partner organizations, and individual supporters to join online actions and conversations to build support for the policy and practice changes needed to build a ‘landscape of breastfeeding support’.
The website associated with the event has links to education and outreach, as well as a social media toolkit you can use to spread the word about breastfeeding support.
Some critics ask, ‘Do we really need a world breastfeeding week? Doesn’t it make parents feel guilty if they can’t breastfeed?’ While every family has the freedom to make decisions about infant feeding that are right for them, WBW seeks to find ways to support women and families who take the breastfeeding path. It asks, what do these families need to make parenting successful when breastfeeding and what can we do to help them? It does not disparage parents who choose the other path. It does not belittle those who for whatever reason need to or choose to use formula. Instead, it focuses on how to uplift all parents, men and women, whether they choose to breastfeed, formula feed or a combination of both.
Often local support groups and community organizations have events in August to turn the spotlight on breastfeeding. In the Austin area, #Texasbreastfeedingcoalition and #MamaSana will be hosting the screening of the film "Chocolate Milk," which is an exploration of the racial divide in breastfeeding. On August 3rd, The Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin is partnering with The Brewtorium Brewery & Kitchen to raise funds for MMBA's Charitable Care Program (#MothersMilkBank, #Isavebabies). Here are few other community events in the Austin area.