[Photo Above: Vermont families gathered in Montpelier on August 1st to take part in the worldwide "The Big Latch On" event to promote the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week.]
Over 175 countries across the globe celebrate the first week in August as “World Breastfeeding Week.” Each year the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) selects a theme for the week-long international celebration, to raise awareness and encourage action supporting breastfeeding mothers.
This year’s theme, “Breastfeeding and Work: Making it Work,” highlights the complexity of role mothers face on return to the workforce.
In Vermont, 90% of mothers breastfeed their babies, many exclusively, for at least the first several weeks of their babies’ lives. Nationally, breastfeeding initiation rates are much lower, averaging 75%. But by six months, fewer than 67% of Vermont mothers continue to breastfeed; nationally fewer than half of all mothers continue to provide nature’s finest nutrition, breast milk, for their babies, and only 19% exclusively breastfeed.
Reasons for the sharp drop in breastfeeding rates over time are varied, but return to work is associated with unplanned weaning across socio-cultural groups throughout the nation.
The Challenges to Returning to Work
Most mothers report they find it challenging enough to manage their workload after a period away; to have to interrupt their workday every few hours to pump to provide milk for their babies can seem overwhelming. Add to this these factors:
- limited facilities for expressing their breast milk while at work,
- minimal employer support,
- coworker misunderstanding or overt antagonism,
- day care practices inadequately protective of mothers’ milk, and
- decreasing pump yields when separated from their babies,
and one can readily see why mothers resort to formula supplementation, or wean altogether.
The Big Latch On
Ever mounting evidence shows the significant health benefits breastfeeding provides to mothers, their babies, the community, and the planet. WABA hopes initiatives such as “The Big Latch-On”, held this year July 31st and August 1st will encourage open discussion and help reestablish breastfeeding as the norm for infant nutrition.
Vermont mothers gathered in host locations throughout the state to latch their babies to their breasts in synch with mothers across the globe. According to WABA, “whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal, or home setting, she needs to feel sufficiently empowered to claim the right to breastfeed on behalf of both herself and her baby.” The “Big Latch-On” provided a moment of solidarity among breastfeeding mothers everywhere, encouraging mothers to connect and to celebrate. WABA reports the Big Latch On this year broke the previous 2103 record of 14,536 children latched to their mother’s breasts during the measured minute, with 14,889 children at breast. 36,502 people attended the Big Latch On to support breastfeeding.
August is Vermont Breastfeeding Promotion Month
The Innocenti Declaration, produced and adopted at the World Health Organization/UNICEF policymakers meeting in Florence Italy, 1990, encourages countries to “enact imaginative legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women, and establish means for its enforcement.”
In the United States, 49 states now carry legislative protections for breastfeeding mothers. Vermont Law assures breastfeeding mothers the right to breastfeed anywhere they otherwise have a legal right to be. In July, Governor Shumlin signed an Executive Proclamation designating August as Vermont Breastfeeding Promotion month. However, much work remains before nurturing babies at breast, a core mammalian function, is reestablished as the American cultural norm.