–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”—
Breastfeeding is eco-friendly.
Planetary protection has never been more crucial, and the undeniable relationship between planetary health and human health has never been more evident.
In November 2022, world leaders, policy-makers and delegates from nearly 200 countries attended the COP27 UN climate summit, held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Presenters made poignant remarks about the climate crisis we find ourselves in.
“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations said.
Sherry Rehman, Minister of Climate Change, Pakistan argued that “The dystopia has already come to our doorstep …”
Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, shared, “Our survival is being held to ransom at the cost of profit and an unwillingness to act despite the ability to do so.”
On Decarbonization Day of the summit, Dr. Abla Al Alfy convened a panel of speakers who presented on the importance of the 1,000 Golden Days and the relationship between the climate crisis and mother baby health. [You can access the United Nations Egypt’s recording here which starts at 19 minutes in.]
Dr. Nevein Dous, UNICEF health specialist, covered infant mortality rates, micronutrient deficiencies, mental health challenges, among other global health challenges and called for the integration of services rather than siloing health strategies.
Frederika Meijer with UNFPA Egypt highlighted UNFPA’s work confronting medical violence and reducing the country’s cesarean section rate which soars over 60 percent.
Meijer brought light to the need to create resilient health systems that will withstand the inevitable shocks of the climate crisis. She noted the important role skilled midwives play in the reduction of unnecessary c-sections, giving way to the work of Dr. Kawther Mahmoud, President of the Nurses Syndicate, Assistant Undersecretary for Nursing and head of the Central Department for Nursing in Egypt, who helps lead the national plan for the midwife.
Many presenters emphasized the importance of family planning counseling and the environmental and health implications of pregnancy spacing.
Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer’s remarks drew attention to a recent WHO report which states that “Almost the entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits, and threatens their health.”
Dr. Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, further described that 26 percent of child deaths under 5 years of age have an element of environmental cause like heat waves, water scarcity, vector-borne diseases and flooding. UNICEF has identified that air pollution will be the leading cause of death for children by 2050, she shared. Additionally, there is a clear link between air pollution and miscarriage. Dr. Kingdon went on to describe the prevalence of visible air pollution particles on the placenta.
In connection to these harrowing accounts, Healthy Children Project’s Dr. Karin Cadwell presented research on the environmental impact of powdered baby formula milks in North America. Read about that work here.
Healthy Children Project’s Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr acknowledged the mess we are in and noted how many solutions that may contribute to planetary and population health are expensive and complex. Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) in the first hour after birth though, is simple and easy, inexpensive, is appropriate for all dyads, and touts priceless benefits.
Brimdyr noted just some of the benefits: SSC in the first hour after birth decreases infant mortality by 25 percent in low birth weight (LBW) infants, decreases transfers to the NICU, decreases maternal stress and depression, improves paternal parental stress, and allows baby to self attach to the breast improving maternal confidence in breastfeeding and increasing breastfeeding rates overall.
The effects of SSC in the first hour extend far beyond the first hours, the first days and first weeks of life. Feldman et al. (2014) followed mothers and their premature infants who had been in SSC and control groups for 10 years. They found that children who had been in the SSC group had better cognitive development, better autonomic nervous system functioning, and mother–child interactions were more reciprocal 10 years later.
Silke Mader of the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) and her colleagues are fighting for SSC and breastfeeding support for all dyads. Mader calls for a zero separation policy which is supported by evidence even in the context of the pandemic, she reported. Mader added that fathers and partners are not second-class citizens and should be included in the policies that help shape proper parent infant bonding.
As the climate emergency becomes more and more bleak, breastfeeding is a safeguard for infant and young child health. Read our coverage on infant and young child feeding in emergencies (IYCF-E) in Prioritizing infant and young child feeding in emergencies during National Preparedness Month and beyond and National Preparedness Month: the U.S.’s deficit in Infant and Young Child Feeding preparedness during emergencies.
COP27 held the first-ever Youth-led Climate Forum ensuring that young people have a place in the conversation about the climate crisis. More on that here.
More resources to explore
RCPCH Climate Change Working Group
Baby Milk Action’s coverage on COP27
Breastfeeding can help tackle climate crisis but it’s on governments, not mums to save the world
The climate crisis is a health crisis short video
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, tell us: Where have you seen predatory marketing of breastmilk substitutes?
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.