Breastfeeding is a human right.

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is a human right. 

Breastfeeding is often presented as a choice, but in many societies, infant feeding is impacted by systems of oppression and lack of supportive measures like paid parental leave, rather than simply being a product of parental choice. 

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

Michigan Breastfeeding Network Executive Director Shannon McKenney Shubert, MPH, CLC has put it this way:  “In my 12-year career in the field of human milk feeding, I have never once met a birthing parent who ‘chose not to breastfeed.’ In this country, whether to breastfeed is not a choice. In this country, whether to breastfeed is a question of ‘Within all the systems of oppression that I navigate, what is the best combination of things I can do to ensure the survival of my baby, myself and the rest of my family?’” 

Access to unbiased information and support and protection to make informed decisions about proper infant and young child nutrition is a core human rights obligation and must be projected as such in international human rights law, as articulated in a Global Breastfeeding Collective (GBC) convening this fall. 

What’s more, children have the rights to life, survival and development, and the highest attainable standard of health, all protected under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

More specifically, under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and families explicitly have the right to have information about the advantages of breastfeeding and to be supported in making choices about the best nutrition for children as part of the right to health and health care.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

Strangely, children’s rights and women’s sexual and reproductive rights communities often find themselves polarized on the issue. Because the mother and child are often regarded as separate entities, issues that impact women and children can appear as though one right is above the other. But a mother and her child should be extolled as an inseparable dyad, and human rights and health advocates must continue to articulate and emphasize this important point. Breastfeeding as a human right is not an either/or argument.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

Marcus Stahlhofer, WHO Maternal and Newborn and Adolescent Health and Aging, lays out how approaching breastfeeding as a human right:

  •  helps to provide legitimacy and accountability for state or government action or inaction and helps set benchmarks to assess these actions,
  • enhances multi-stakeholder engagement through indivisibility and interdependence of human rights including involvement of global, regional and national human rights mechanisms,
  • elicits a paradigm shift that transitions from nutrition and health needs to legal entitlements and associated obligations, and 
  • empowers people to demand that their rights are not negatively interfered with, such as through breastmilk substitutes and commercial milk formula (BMS/CMF) marketing.


Stahlhofer has pointed out that BMS companies use human rights arguments effectively by drawing on ideas around freedom of expression, right to intellectual property, women’s rights to autonomy, bodily integrity, and free choice to justify their predatory practices. 

There are key human rights tools and mechanisms that health advocates can employ specific to infant feeding. Some of them include:

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) issued a position statement in regard to breastfeeding as a human right. 

“The ABM asserts that it is a moral imperative to protect the mother’s and child’s basic rights to breastfeed for their own health and wellness, as well as that of the nations in which they reside. Given the importance of breastfeeding and human milk in reducing infant mortality, governments should include breastfeeding as a leading health indicator and work toward eliminating disparities in breastfeeding outcomes and increasing rates of breastfeeding,” it reads in part. 

The White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) Charter on the Universal Rights of Women and Newborns created a proclamation on the universal rights of women and newborns. Find that here.  

You can also explore GBC’s collection of documents that support breastfeeding as a human right here.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

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As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, tell us: What does breastfeeding support look like in your community?

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.

Supporting Black breastfeeding in Wichita Metro Area

Joyea Marshall-Crowley, CBS, Protect Yourself, Protect Your Baby Program Coordinator with the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition (KBC) and coalition coordinator at the Wichita Black Breastfeeding Coalition (WBBC) had a wonderful perinatal experience in Dayton, Ohio. She shared her pregnancy and labor and delivery stories on social media, specifically advocating for midwifery care, sparking curiosities and starting conversations among her friends.

When she moved  back to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas though, she realized that the health options available were lacking. 

“Those options were not offered, spoken about, or supported,” Marshall-Crowley begins. “Since then, I pride myself on letting women know they have choices and are in control of their maternal healthcare.” 

Marshall-Crowley’s management of “Protect Yourself, Protect Your Baby” helps provide pregnant and breastfeeding mothers of color with accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine. The focus of this project is to create a safe space to talk about vaccine hesitancies. The project includes healthcare experts of color who understand that these hesitancies come from trauma and historical incidents within the healthcare system, Marshall-Crowley explains.  You can find more information here: https://ksbreastfeeding.org/covid-19-vaccine-awareness/

 

WBBC formed relatively early on in the pandemic. With everything shut down, Marshall-Crowley noticed that people were in a state of being still and listening. On top of that, more babies were being born, and mothers were interested in finding ways to keep their babies safe from COVID which led them to research and take more interest in breastfeeding. 

WBBC is one of over 20 HealthConnect One’s First Food Equity project organizations supported in their efforts to rollout community-based projects by BIPOC leaders. [https://www.healthconnectone.org/feature-supporting-black-breastfeeding-in-wichita/

From this funding, the #LatchedLegacy project came about. 

Marshall-Crowley and other supporters uplift mothers with lactation and breastfeeding information and supplies.

“We are most proud of being a representation for women of color regarding breastfeeding support,” Marshall-Crowley shares. 

WBBC has engaged in many community events this summer like The Rudy Love Music Festival, Fiesta Mexicana of Topeka, Rock the Block, and Juneteenth celebrations just to name a few.  

Marshall-Crowley shares that they have received excellent feedback from the community and have been thanked many times for doing this work for the black and brown communities. 

She goes on, “Since the pandemic, social media has highlighted maternal healthcare for black and brown women, and breastfeeding has entered into those conversations. The culture is undoubtedly changing and starting to include breastfeeding as a first choice for infant feeding. For Wichita specifically, there have been changes like the formation of the coalition and the creation of the “Wichita Birth Justice Society,” which highlights maternal healthcare in a full circle. As a result, women of color in our community are feeling more supported and interested in owning their own maternal health experiences.” 

When WBBC started, there were no credentials in lactation within the group, Marshall-Crowley reports. Since spring though, they’ve added two certified breastfeeding specialists (CBS) working towards their IBCLC, three doula-trained workers, three Chocolate Milk Café trained facilitators, and two in the works of getting their midwifery license. 

“Our vision is to become the resource and information where Black women can seek help from the coalition, people who look like them and do not have to be outsourced because of ‘credentials,’” Marshall-Crowley stated in the coalition’s HealthConnect One feature

What’s more, the KBC accepted two of their members to the Color-Filled BF Clinical Lactation Program, so that list of credentials within the coalition will soon be updated further.

Marshall-Crowley was honored as one of USBC’s Cultural Changemaker awardees this year. 

You can follow WBBC’s activity on Facebook here