Spotlight on Fédora Bernard, Program Officer at The Right Livelihood Foundation

Fédora Bernard is currently Program Officer at The Right Livelihood Foundation, an organization established to “‘honour and support courageous people solving global problems’… now widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’”. 

Bernard presenting in Rio.

Before transitioning into her work at The Right Livelihood, Bernard served as Geneva Association for Baby Food and International Liaison Office of the IBFAN Network (GIFA) Program Officer beginning in April 2019, having just newly graduated from the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement with a Masters in International Affairs. 

This week, Our Milky Way is pleased to share a Q&A session with Bernard. 

Q: Please share a few highlights during your time with IBFAN. 

A: I am deeply passionate about human rights and GIFA was specialized in exactly that. I think that throughout my time at IBFAN, some highlights would probably be the sessions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child that I attended and advocated at, the World Health Assembly, the fifth session of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights and of course, the World Breastfeeding Conference in Rio. They were all avenues where we could raise awareness and advocate for better national policies.

Q:  What would you consider your greatest triumph with IBFAN?

A: I am not sure I could speak of triumph, at the end of the day my time with IBFAN was quite short and all I did was trying to keep up with the amazing work that has been done by the Geneva office for the past 40 years. Nevertheless, I am very proud of the achievements with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as during my time with IBFAN, “breastfeeding” was mentioned in almost all concluding observations.

Q: In November 2019, you had the opportunity to present IBFAN’s Green Feeding documents. What was that like? How was it received by participants at the World Breastfeeding Conference? 

A: It was an incredible experience, it was an honor to prepare this with Alison Linnecar, who wrote the document and to present it along with experts in the field. I don’t think that I can define myself as an expert, let alone a breastfeeding expert, but I am starting a career in advocacy. I therefore decided that I wanted to emphasize how the Green Feeding Documents could be used as an advocacy tool from an environmental perspective. Therefore, while Alison explained the science behind all of it, I focused on the link between breastfeeding and human rights, more in particular how it can be used in relation to the right to a safe, healthy environment. At the end of the presentation, I was so happy to see that most people in the audience wanted a copy of the green feeding documents…I thought that 30 copies would be enough, but clearly, I was wrong! I wish I had brought more.

Jose Angel Rodriguez-Reyes, expert of the Committee on the Rights of the Child pictured alongside Bernard.

Q: In your piece BREASTFEEDING: BEYOND “WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD”, you mention the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding to Protect, Promote and Support Breastfeeding. We have the framework for better global health outcomes; What is holding us back? Is there one significant barrier standing in the way of a better world? 

A: I believe that from a political perspective, two things are holding us back: The first being the patriarchy and political systems dominated by men. As long as women will not be allowed to play a greater role in global health governance and domestic politics, public health issues such as breastfeeding or issues surrounding menstrual health will not be given the right amount of attention. 

The second element is political will, which is deeply related to the first. Breastfeeding is only seen as a public health issue in developing countries, and aggressive marketing from the formula industry has managed to convince women themselves that they are actually more empowered if they don’t breastfeed. Breastfeeding is thus seen as a weight imposed on them rather than a right that should be protected, promoted and supported by governments. In some societies, it is indeed currently a real hurdle for women to achieve their breastfeeding goals but instead of women in their breastfeeding journeys benefiting from policies, they are given a bottle. I am of the idea that improved breastfeeding policies are not only a matter of public health but also of women’s rights. 

Q: Any advice on how to navigate a climate where people dispute basic facts?

A: That is a very difficult question…Especially because those disputing basic facts are often deeply attached to their position and will give you alternative “facts”…I believe very much in trusted sources, and would always advise these people to check their sources and question them. For instance, if someone shows me an article from the industry containing “facts on breastfeeding” I would draw their attention on why this article could be biased and not based on adequate scientific evidence.

Q: Breastfeeding is a topic that spans across all disciplines. Will you please give us a glimpse into the work you’re doing at The Right Livelihood? 

A: The Right Livelihood Foundation honors and supports courageous people solving global problems, in all disciplines. IBFAN is actually one of them. With civil society space shrinking all over the world, human rights defenders are facing increasing difficulties, which is very true also for breastfeeding advocates. My work at the foundation therefore consists in using the advocacy skills that I developed with IBFAN, to support laureates all over the world.

Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) offered completely online for first time ever

In this uncertain time, it can be helpful to remember that we have control over the way we respond to the things we don’t have control over. Healthy Children Project joins individuals, businesses and organizations that have had to adapt to this strange, challenging Covid-19 situation. 

“When you face challenges, we have two choices: Let it stop you or find a way to grow and make a difference, even during challenging times. Now, more than ever, lactation counselors are needed to promote, protect and support breastfeeding families, even though we temporarily find ourselves in a place where face-to-face courses can’t happen,” says Karin Cadwell, Healthy Children Project’s executive director. 

Since social distancing and safer-at-home policies have been implemented, Healthy Children Project (HCP) was propelled to use this as an opportunity to offer the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) completely online for the first time ever. 

“While we still strongly believe that the experience of being together for the LCTC course has provided wonderful opportunities for meeting new friends and colleagues and networking, the changing times have propelled us to revisit the course delivery options,” Cadwell says. 

ALPP will offer an online, remotely-proctored CLC exam starting this week

The LCTC course combines up-to-date high level evidence, counseling training, policy and practice.

“I have learned so much already that medical school, 20 years of practicing and nursing four babies never taught me. (I am only in the second section!)” one participant shares. 

Another participant shares: “I was extremely happy with this course, as it was taught in a way that was inclusive, free of bias, and with much knowledge. In addition, the evidence that was provided was exceptional. Though I was not able to do this course in person, the instructors created a course that was not only highly educational, but also enjoyable. Thank you again to all that made this course happen.”

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The online LCTC is a self-paced online course presented in an engaging and energetic format through videos, self-check questions and competency verification and twice-weekly office hours with faculty to answer additional questions for online participants. 

“I am truly enjoying the format of this course and it definitely helps that you are all so entertaining and fun! I feel like I am sitting in your living room and you are telling me everything you know and it is quite lovely!” on participant exclaims.

The course should take 52 hours to complete (just like the in-person version).

“I’m so impressed with our participants. They are working on the course when they get back from a long day working in the hospital or in between their kids online school zoom meetings. They are finding ways to grow and learn, even with this new ‘normal’ we are all experiencing,” according to Healthy Children Project faculty Kajsa Brimdyr.

Offering the LCTC online has produced some unexpected benefits like accessibility. 

“I love that we are able to offer this to those who need the flexibility of online learning, those who may not be able to get five days off in a row can take this course on their own time, in a way that works for busy lives and schedules,” says Brimdyr.

“I enjoyed the teaching methods utilized and enjoyed the ability to work on training while having the ability to pause and do other duties for my employment as well,” another participant attests.

What’s more, faculty has gotten creative about how to best replicate the face-to-face experience. 

“The office hours are a popular aspect of the new online class,” says Healthy Children Project’s Anna Blair. “Karin and I have had a great time getting to know the participants and help them think about how to integrate the new information into their practice. It’s really fun. My dog, Sandy, occasionally joins us and I love seeing all the faces (and participants’ babies and dogs) on the screen during the office hours.” 

Blair continues, “It is so nice to connect with the participants who are going through this journey.” 

Participants have also shared that one of their favorite parts of the course is  the virtual office hours with faculty. 

“It is really helpful hearing some of the questions and answers people are asking/getting,” one explains. 

Participants can email questions in advance or ask questions during the office hours in the chat feature of the program. In the absence of in-person learning, this feature replicates the value of hearing others’ questions. Each office hour section is logged and labeled by topic so that students can revisit and review the questions at their convenience. 

Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

“We kept thinking about the phrase ‘Laurus crescit in arduis’ –Laurel grows in steep and difficult places,” Cadwell begins. “Not only have we seen amazing stories of resilience in the news and with our friends, our team at Healthy Children has been focused on making a difference in the world. We all have, and need, the opportunity to bloom. Learning together, we can share our experiences and knowledge. We have loved hearing from our participants during the course – their ideas, experiences and future plans. We all can work together to make a difference for breastfeeding families.”


To register for the Online Lactation Counselor Training, please click here.

Breastfeeding in shelters

Among the many effects of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic has exposed our nation’s deficiencies: emergency unpreparedness, racial health disparities, our “highly polarized, fragmented, and individualistic society…” (I would add arrogant), and the failure of capitalism.  In marginalized populations, poverty, health inequities, and other burdens are amplified during an outbreak or other emergency. 

Long before the pandemic hit, individuals and advocacy organizations have been ringing the alarm, calling for better access to education, better healthcare, and equity and justice for all.

Of these trailblazers is Powerhouse Nikki Lee RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, CKC, RYT whose recent endeavor includes creating and implementing the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter

In her role at the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Lee noticed the challenges breastfeeding people face in shelters. 

The barriers are a result of our cultural attitude toward lactating people and misunderstandings about their bodies and needs. 

Lee talks about issues of privacy and ‘fairness’ in a shelter. Organizational dress codes often require residents to dress modestly, so when a person exposes their breasts to feed a baby, other residents can wonder why they’re not allowed to wear short shorts. Parents can express concern about the teenage boys in their families seeing breasts while a baby is being fed.

There’s the concern over safe milk storage and the mythology around reimbursement through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Shelter staff may believe that if a mother breastfeeds, the facility will lose money to buy food because the allotted amount for infant formula isn’t getting used. Lee clarifies that if a mother breastfeeds, the institution will have more money to spend on food.  

Just like in the rest of the US, there tends to be a push for formula feeding because the baby’s intake is easily measured, and staff are more comfortable with what is familiar, i.e. bottle-feeding

Lee continues, “There is a genuine honesty from people who don’t understand anything about breastfeeding, ‘Why are we breastfeeding?’ ‘Why are we bothering?’”  Staff in hospitals have been educated about breastfeeding over the past few decades; staff in shelters have not.

So when she conducts trainings, she starts at the rudimentary level of ‘what are mammals?’ 

“All the worst mythology that you can imagine is in the shelter,” Lee says. “All the worst in how society treats mothers and babies gets magnified in shelters.” 

With the problem identified, Lee says she started “from scratch in a way,” looking for a written policy to support breastfeeding people.  Early on in her search, she followed up on a news story featuring a homeless mother in Hawaii. She posted inquiries on Lactnet, CDC listserv, international online forums, Facebook groups, and reached out to shelters at random wondering if they had breastfeeding policies . 

“Nothing,” Lee reports. “There is probably a shelter somewhere that has a policy, but after two years of a global search, I wasn’t able to find it.” 

In all her search,  Lee found one published document— a Canadian study looking at the factors that influence breastfeeding practices of mothers living in a maternity shelter– that could be helpful. 

Lee wrote the first draft of the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter with policies like the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and Ten Steps to Breastfeeding-Friendly Child Care in mind. 

She sent it out to colleagues at CHOP’s Homeless Health Initiative for feedback, and for quite a while, there was none. Lee’s colleague Melissa Berrios Johnson, MSW,  a social work trainer with HHI, and the convenor of its breastfeeding workgroup subcommittee, helped to make the policy reality. 

Partner agency Philadelphia Health Management Corporation (PHMC) received a grant that funded research which took the policy to four different shelters for staff and resident feedback. 

“Everyone, residents and staff alike, felt this policy was important and feasible,” Lee says. 

PHMC’s next step was to identify a shelter staff member to become a breastfeeding champion. This champion would be provided with free breastfeeding training, and receive an honorarium.

As program oversight changed though, “breastfeeding champion” became a job, with a list of responsibilities. So far, Lee says they’ve only found four people out of 10 shelters who are willing to take on the task.

“There are some folks in shelters working hard to make things better,” Lee says. “They are those champions, most of whom have breastfed themselves.”

Currently, Lee and colleagues are in the process of developing training for staff members and ironing out how to help staff implement the policy.  

Lee’s and co-authors Alexandra Ernst MPH, and Vanesa Karamanian MD, MPH landmark paper about the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter has been submitted to the  Journal of Human Lactation (JHL)

At present, COVID has put all of this work on hold.

A time for renewal

On one of my favorite walking routes, there is a beautiful oak tree that shades the street corner. Its sprawling roots heave through the sidewalk. One day, a dreamy song played through my earbuds, and as I walked toward the tree I felt the urge– almost like a spiritual calling– to touch its sturdy bark. Making contact with its trunk, a tickling, buzzing static traveled through my arm and zapped my ears like some energy had traveled through the cord on my earbuds. Stunned, I stepped back and gazed up at the oak’s gangly branches overhead, for a second believing that I’d connected with some otherworldly force. The sun shone down on the scene, casting a stark outline between the tree’s branches when I realized they were intertwined with telephone wires overhead.

Human innovation and nature entangled. 

April 22, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as this video points out, while we breathe through masks, our planet breathes a sigh of relief.

Healthy Children Project faculty, Master Herbalist, Certified Aromatherapist and author of  Growing Green Families: A Guide for Natural Families and Healthy Homes Donna Walls, RN, BSN, IBCLC, ICCE, ANLC agrees that Earth Day this year has a “different look.” 

“Around the world we are seeing the rebound of the earth when there is reduced human impact,” she says. “We see fish returning to the waters of Venice, kangaroos jumping in the streets of Sydney and comparison pictures of Los Angeles two months ago and now with clear, blue skies.” 

For the first time in decades, air pollution has cleared enough to reveal mountaintops from over 100 miles away. (Find pictures here and here.)  

Walls wonders if these spectacular phenomena will motivate humans to better care for our planet moving forward. 

She explains: “Being a maternity nurse for many years I usually go directly to ‘how does this impact new families?’ Maybe this is the opportunity to educate families on a cleaner life for our children, grandchildren and the planet.”

In 2013, Walls pioneered Miami Valley Hospital’s Green Team in an effort to provide safer, toxin-free products for families. 

“Anyone who says healthcare is not about cleaning up the environment is not well,” she laughs.

The Green Team worked to eliminate disposable diapers, formaldehyde-layden mattresses and unsafe, employee hand soaps, Walls reports. They found a clean, safe line of products and ultimately saved money.

Looking ahead, Walls poses: “At this time of renewal for the earth, can we make it the beginning of a new way of thinking, starting with the care and feeding of the newest members of the human race?” 

The environmental cost of infant formula milk is well documented in some countries. 

For instance, “For the UK alone, carbon emission savings gained by supporting mothers to breastfeed would equate to taking between 50,000 and 77,500 cars off the road each year,” recorded in research by UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at Imperial College London

IBFAN and BPNI published Formula for Disaster , a document that details infant formula’s detrimental impact on the environment and by contrast, breastfeeding’s sustainability. 

WABA also includes information on “the most ecologically sound food available to humans”– breastmilk. 

Bethany Kotlar, MPH, Program Manager, Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health at Harvard Chan School Center of Excellence writes in Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, We Must Remember Maternal Health, “The pandemic gives us the unique opportunity to reassess the cracks in our society…” 

We’ve been granted the opportunity to reevaluate our responsibility to our planet and pledge to protect it so that we may continue to receive its bounty and find solace in its beauty. 

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents—it was loaned to you by your children.” —Native American proverb

How to support world’s coordinating authority in setting global health norms

I have a friend who describes her experience wading through the pandemic as paralyzing. 

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

In the first few weeks of the social distancing orders, she says she found herself just standing there at times, staring off into the distance with an utter sense of loss. 

It’s a familiar feeling. Even with so much to be grateful for, there’s static that surrounds us– a heaviness that lingers around the edges, as my friend puts it. 

“It’s a pretty big presence to try to push away with positivity right now,” she counseled me. 

Amidst the stillness, what sometimes feels like paralyzation, there are actions taken, decisions made– like President Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) during a global pandemic— with sweeping consequences. 

Trump’s plan to defund WHO has been met with mobilization by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and partner civil society organizations who are  joining forces to support WHO. You can read IBFAN’s full statement of support to WHO from April 11 here

Patti Rundall is the Policy Director Baby Milk Action, Global Advocacy IBFAN.  

“We have been one of the most outspoken NGOs, calling for WHO to adopt a sound conflict of interest policy to safeguard its independence and resist the unjustified influence of powerful interests, be they commercial or political,” she writes in an email to Our Milky Way.  “…All our criticisms are focused on supporting WHO in its unique role as the world’s coordinating authority in setting global health norms.” 

Specifically, WHO “is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19,” as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declares in a UN News story

Guterres goes on to say in that piece that it is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”

Bill Gates on Twitter writes: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.” The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s voluntary contribution to WHO is second to the U.S.’s assessed and voluntary contributions. [More here.] 

Rundall adds: “WHO is needed to guide not only country responses to COVID-19 but also the host of other global threats that we face – not least global heating, new viruses, antimicrobial resistance and non-communicable diseases.” 

Rundall explains that “the U.S. is not the only nation to lobby against the much needed increases of Member States assessed contributions, but it is one of the most powerful.”

“For goodness sake, WHO’s total annual budget of $2.5bn is about the same as the budget of a large US hospital,” she puts the money into perspective.  

Even without defunding, WHO is already underfunded

Even as many of us are feeling debilitated to some degree, Rundall offers suggestions on how to take action for good. 

“We hope that US citizens– and especially anyone working in infant and young child health– will remember the critically important role that WHO has had in child survival,” she begins. “and do everything they can: write to politicians, media, social media, friends  and distance themselves from President Trump’s statements about health.”  [Link added.] 

Rundall directs us to the Society for International Development’s stance on Trump’s move which reiterates the G2H2 statement as well as an open letter of support to WHO and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebrheyesus in BMJ

Visit Rundall’s frequently updated policy blog here