Becoming the parent of a new baby is both a life-altering gift and an immense responsibility. Last week, as countries around the world celebrated World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF and WHO called on governments and all employers to adopt family-friendly policies that support breastfeeding.
The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week was “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding.”
Family-friendly policies – such as paid parental leave – enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life, when it matters most. The evidence is clear that during early childhood, the optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding, along with nurturing care and stimulation, can strengthen children’s brain development with impacts that endure over a lifetime.
Family-friendly policies are particularly important for working parents. Mothers need time off from work to recover from birth and get breastfeeding off to a successful start. Time off work is also important for fathers.
Returning to work too soon is a barrier to the early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and continued breastfeeding until age 2 or longer – practices that can boost children’s immune systems, shield them from disease, and provide protection from noncommunicable diseases later in life. Breastfeeding also protects maternal health -- women who breastfeed reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Together, with the support of governments, employers and communities, we have the power to enable breastfeeding and support families in fostering a nurturing environment where all children thrive.