It is currently World Breastfeeding Week again. The theme week takes place once a year, like many other theme weeks and days. This year's week is all about Strengthen Breastfeeding, which is the translation of the original English title.
But what does it mean to strengthen breastfeeding?
I have had a few thoughts about this and would like to write them down here.
I actually think that the motto has different facets and cannot be described in two sentences.
The topic of strengthening breast feeding definitely has a political side. It is about national, as well as international breastfeeding promotion. You may wonder why there is a need for governmental breastfeeding promotion at all. This topic alone is complex.
Manufacturers of milk powders and also manufacturers who produce products for feeding substitutes advertise very presently in social media and also, for example, magazines around pregnancy and babyhood.
Since the influence of media and advertising on breastfeeding is not new, the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes has been in place since 1981. This code has worldwide validity. The idea is that babies who are not breastfed should be provided with a formula, i.e. a liquid substitute meal. This substitute food should meet certain standards, which are regulated in this country by an EU directive.
On the other hand, the sale of formulas and products that are used for feeding should not be specifically promoted or advertised. Mothers should not be discouraged from breastfeeding. Consequently, such products may not be advertised.
But what exactly is covered by the Code?
The WHO Code primarily covers infant formulas, i.e. PRE and 1 formulas, which, according to the manufacturer, may be given during the first six months. The same applies to bottles and teats. Follow-on milks and special foods may also not be marketed according to the Code. However, violations occur here time and again. There are often advertisements or even samples for follow-on milk or special infant foods, such as for abdominal pain or constipation.
Due to the much-present advertising, mothers, or parents in general, already have various manufacturers in mind before the birth. They resort to them more quickly in case of difficulties, if they do not already buy bottles and milk powder before the birth for emergencies. This lowers the hurdle in case of small problems to use a supposedly quick solution by the bottle, instead of seeking and receiving support and help. But I will come to this in more detail later.
Professionals must provide independent advice and must not be influenced by subsidies, free training, samples or similar. Here, too, I see a clear need for action.
Since the sales of baby food have almost doubled in recent years, the WHO criticizes the marketing of the respective companies. You can read more about this in the Spiegel article Sales almost doubled - Criticism of baby food marketing.
The political side, however, is also about the health care system. The costs of breastfeeding consultations, for example, are rarely covered by health insurers and there is hardly any uniform regulation; it often depends on the goodwill of the person in charge. Therefore, breastfeeding support can also mean that the costs for breastfeeding support are covered.
Since lactation consultant is not a protected profession, I think it is important that certain training criteria must be met in order for the costs to be covered.
At the same time, however, more extensive breastfeeding support should be possible in midwifery care and should be remunerated accordingly. Midwives are paid for twenty minutes for a postpartum home visit, during which time adequate breastfeeding support is understandably not possible.
Only in this way is access to support for breastfeeding difficulties really possible for all moms, or at least significantly more, because the shortage of skilled workers is unfortunately not only making itself felt in the trades. There must be many more offers of support overall.
Of course, there are voluntary offers such as from AFS (the Association of Free Breastfeeding Groups) and La Leche Liga, but these are far from sufficient.
However, breastfeeding promotion and breastfeeding support have social and personal aspects in addition to the political side.
Every mother should receive the information on breastfeeding that corresponds to the current state of knowledge. And this not only after birth, but already during pregnancy.
Support for breastfeeding is not only about breastfeeding advice, but also about meetings and exchanges for mothers and pregnant women, where they can get a realistic picture and where women can strengthen each other to overcome difficulties.
I would therefore like to see more honesty about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding does not always have to be easy. It can be easy. But there may also be difficult phases. Problems can (often) be overcome. Breastfeeding can be connected with joy, as well as with sadness, anger or excessive demands or whatever other emotions and thoughts are present. I wish that people would talk about this.
I wish that we had more role models. I wish that everyone could stand by their own wishes and be aware of them. I wish that we all receive support from our families, friends and professionals, no matter what our ideas about breastfeeding or not breastfeeding look like, and that we are not judged or have to experience pressure.