Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Calling for political commitment to breastfeeding

About breastfeeding, there are several numbers you might not know.

One, each year, 800,000 children die because of poor breastfeeding practices, mostly in developing countries.

Two, an exclusively breastfed child has a 14 times greater chance of survival in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, because breastfeeding reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea.

Three, initiating breastfeeding within the first hour after birth can reduce newborn mortality by up to 20%.

In spite of the scientific evidence that strongly back up the extraordinary benefits of breastfeeding, global rate of exclusively breastfed children under six months has remained stark, especially in developing countries. According to UNICEF's recent report, Breastfeeding on Worldwide Agenda, many families in developing countries are enamored by formula advertising, and it's hard for advocates to convince these families that breastfeeding truly is the best choice for a modern mother and her child(ren).

The reinforcement of a "breastfeeding culture" and its vigorous defense against incursions of a “formula-feeding culture” is imperative in developing countries. Now, UNICEF is calling for a political commitment to breastfeeding. So, as a volunteer at San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition, I recently wrote the post for the coalition about the calling.

Recently during a special baptism, Pope Francis told the babies’ mothers, “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them. Because they are the most important people here.” Watching the Pope encourage mothers to breastfeed their baby in Sistine Chapel, breastfeeding advocates were thrilled. After all, we don’t see politicians or celebrities send messages in support of public breastfeeding very often.

The extraordinary benefits of breastfeeding are strongly backed up by scientific evidence. Statistics shows that each year, 800,000 children under five in developing countries die because of poor breastfeeding practices. An exclusively breastfed child has a 14 times greater chance of survival in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, because breastfeeding reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea. Initiating breastfeeding within the first hour after birth can reduce newborn mortality by up to 20%. Breast milk is a superfood containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be provided by formula. Breastfeeding also builds the bond between mother and child.

But this strong evidence has not translated into political commitment. Investment in breastfeeding programs remained low, and only 39% of children under six month are exclusively breastfed.


According to UNICEF’s recent report, Breastfeeding on the Worldwide Agenda, this is because of the polarization and lack of a unified voice on the issue, a leadership gap and inadequate guiding institutions, and an ineffective advocacy and communications platform.

The report analyzes responses from 44 health and nutrition actors across the globe, finds that many policies reflect positively on breastfeeding but that latter has not been translated into actionable interventions at a program level. Where there are innovations, they are not implemented at scale, with few systems to report on coverage and the quality and impact of interventions.

The report also prioritized several key areas that require attention.

First, a political visibility and prioritization of breastfeeding. Mothers need support to begin breastfeeding their babies at life’s beginning and to continue as their babies grow. That kind of support from policy makers, health care providers, businesses, and communities needs to be built.

Second, a common and unifying advocacy agenda that all actors can rally around, including a space for dialogue on polarizing issues such as partnering with private companies to reduce malnutrition.

Third a recast advocacy and communications platform for the 21st century. Mothers today are increasingly raising their children in urban areas, working outside the home, and accessing social media. Advocates must make a case for breastfeeding that appeals to mothers and their families.

Last but not least, an urgent action to protect breastfeeding is needed as breast milk substitutes (formula) companies gain market share in emerging economies. Nothing worried respondents more than the threat this poses to breastfeeding. It’s hard to convince families enamored by formula advertising that breastfeeding truly is the best choice for a modern mother and her child(ren). Civil society groups report ongoing violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes.

When Pope Francis invited mothers to feed their hungry babies during a special baptism, he was also sending a clear message that women should breastfeed their babies whenever and wherever they want. A breastfeeding revolution may begin at Sistine Chapel. We may be at a crucial turing point for breastfeeding advocacy, because the surge in interest in nutrition has never been higher worldwide.

Politicians need to follow the Pope’s lead and provide leadership on breastfeeding promotion. Breastfeeding advocates need to follow the roadmap for action provided by UNICEF’s report. And the world need to work together to support breastfeeding--breastfeeding saves more lives than any other preventive intervention!
My happy, exclusively breastfed baby!

Monday, February 24, 2014

When a nursing mom is sick

This Martin Luther King Day long weekend was no fun for us. I caught stomach flu and spent the whole Saturday night in the emergency room. The very next day my hubby was down by the very same disease.

Breastfeeding in emergency room.
It turned out our little one was the only one who didn't get sick in the house. According to my doctor, it's breast milk that protect the baby from the flu.

So, to thank breastfeeding and in light of flu season, I wrote the following post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Colition's blog.


Breastfeeding should continue when mother is sick, experts say

It’s flu season. Many women believe that they have to stop breastfeeding when they catch flu, but according to experts, breastfeeding should continue even when mother is sick.

In his article “Breastfeeding and Illness,” Dr. Jack Newman, founder of the first breastfeeding clinic in Canada, wrote, “Very few maternal illnesses require the mother to stop breastfeeding. This is particularly true for infections the mother might have, and infections are the most common type of illness for which mothers are told they must stop.”

According to Dr. Newman, viruses cause most infections, and most infections due to viruses are most infectious before the mother even has an idea she is sick. By the time the mother has fever, running nose, or diarrhea, she has probably already passed on the infection to the baby. However, breastfeeding protects the baby against infection, and the mother should continue breastfeeding, in order to protect the baby. If the baby does get sick, which is possible, he is likely to get less sick than if breastfeeding had stopped. But often mothers are pleasantly surprised that their babies do not get sick at all. The baby was protected by the mother’s continuing breastfeeding. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, are also not of concern for the very same reasons.

Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC and owner of, agreed with Dr. Newman. “It is very, very rare for a mom to need to stop breastfeeding for any illness,” she wrote on her website. “There are only a few very serious illnesses that might require a mom stop breastfeeding for a period of time or permanently.”

Per Bonyata, during any ordinary” illness such as cold, sore throat, flu, tummy bug, mastitis, etc, a mother should continue to breastfeed, just remind her doctor that she is nursing so that if medications are needed the doctor can prescribe something that is compatible with breastfeeding. She also pointed out that most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, and for those that are not recommended there is almost always an alternative medication that is safe.

As for the decision about continuing breastfeeding when the mother takes a drug, “it is far more involved than whether the baby will get any in the milk. It also involves taking into consideration the risks of not breastfeeding, for the mother, the baby, and the family, as well as the society.” wrote Dr. Newman. He questioned, “Does the addition of a small amount of medication to the mother’s milk make breastfeeding more hazardous than formula feeding? The answer is almost never,” and he considers that breastfeeding with a little drug in the milk is almost always safer than formula feeding.

So experts agree that instead of stop breastfeeding, the best thing a mother can do for her baby when she is sick is to continue breastfeed. In fact, Dr. Newman warned, “remember that stop breastfeeding for a week or even days may result in permanent weaning as the baby may then not take the breast again.” Bonyata also reminded mothers, “withholding your breast milk during an illness deprives baby of the comfort and superior nutrition of nursing.”

There is, though, an exception to the above, which is HIV infection in the mother. “HIV and HTLV-1 are the only infectious diseases that are considered absolute contraindications to breastfeeding in developed countries,” explained Dr. Ruth Laurence, a pioneer in the field of human lactation. “Until we have further information, it is generally felt that the mother who is HIV positive not breastfeed,” Dr. Newman added. “At least in the situation where the risks of artificial feeding are considered acceptable.”


Update on July 18, 2016: Now HIV therapy for breastfeeding mothers can virtually eliminate transmission to babies.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I support the FAMILY Act. Do you?

I took advantage of California Paid Family Leave after my baby was born. During that 12 weeks, I bonded with my baby by breastfeeding him as often and as long as possible; I also built a very good milk supply. By the time I went back to work when my little one turned 3 months old, I had two gallon of breast milk stored in my freezer. 
The working environment I returned to was, unfortunately, very unfriendly to breastfeeding mothers. 
I went through a long, exhausting process of fighting just for a reasonable pumping space and a harassment-free office, which caused me to be stressed out with my milk drying up. 
Luckily, I was able to continue exclusively breastfeeding my little one with my stored milk supply. When I was about to use up that storage, I left my job and became a freelancer. I was relieved and my milk supply came back. My little one was exclusively breastfed till the end of six months. He just turned nine month old todays and is still breastfed. 
Experts agree that breastfeeding is baby’s best start. I wouldn’t be able to give my little one that best start without Paid Family Leave. That is how important Paid Family Leave is to breastfeeding mothers and babies. I was lucky. I live in California, the first state in the country to pass Paid Family Leave in 2002. But I believe that all the working mothers in this country should have the same access to paid family leave rights that we have in California. This is why I support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act)
Introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Family Act would create a national Paid Family Leave program, providing up to 12 weeks of partial pay for qualifying life events, like the birth of a baby or serious illness of a family member, among other things. This legislation will support national efforts to encourage breastfeeding
America is one of the only seven countries in the world that doesn’t provide paid leave for new moms. We can do better by asking our policy makers to support the FAMILY Act. 
If you live in Los Angeles, the LA City Council member Nury Martinez has just introduced a resolution to support the FAMILY Act and California’s Paid Family Leave Program. You can sign a petition started by Breastfeed LA here and tell the LA City Council, “I support the FAMILY Act and you should, too.” 
If you live in any other city in the country, you can find your U.S. Representative here and send the following message from to your Representative. 
“Today’s Date here
Your name here
Your address here 
Re: Please support the FAMILY Act 
Dear Representative, 
I’m calling on you to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act), which was introduced in Congress.

It is well past time for federal policy that meets our nation’s needs, lives up to the values we all share, and truly honors America’s families. As Americans, we know that there is nothing more important than being able to care for family–whether you have an ill parent or loved one or a new baby on the way. That is why we need a law that guarantees that people can care for themselves and their loved ones while still making ends meet and contributing to the economy. The FAMILY Act is that law. 

Please support the FAMILY Act and do everything in your power to ensure that this much-needed bill becomes a national workplace standard. 
Your signature”

It is an original post to by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to To-wen Tseng.