In recognition of its significance, Breastfeeding Awareness Week is celebrated worldwide to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and the support needed for nursing mothers.
This annual event, typically held in the first week of August, aims to inform communities about the advantages of breastfeeding, promote lactation education, and foster an environment of support for breastfeeding mothers.
This year's theme set by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is: “Let's Make Breastfeeding and Work, Work".
This theme is one close to the heart of what we do at myTamarin - we are here to support and empower employees throughout life's challenges. We understand the stress that can arise in early parenthood and the pressure that may come about with stopping breastfeeding when returning to work.
This year, for Breastfeeding Awareness Week, we urge organisations to reflect on what they are doing to support working parents. At myTamarin we have a range of experts ready to support employees with new parenthood, and returning to work - lactation consultants, behavioural experts, childcare experts, maternity nurses, and sleep consultants, to name a few!
What's the situation in the UK?
According to UNICEF, the UK has some of the lowest rates worldwide - 8 out of 10 women stop breastfeeding before they want to. The last infant-feeding survey was done in 2010 and has been discontinued (which is an issue in itself!) and people are calling on the government to reinstate the survey to help increase understanding and education.
The topic of breastfeeding is an emotional one due to a lot of families not breastfeeding or having experienced the stress of not succeeding with it. As a result, parents can feel shame and guilt around the topic but the conversation needs to be opened up around why the rate in the UK is so low. The blame needs to be moved from the individual women, and make it a shared responsibility to promote continuing breastfeeding where possible.
Breastfeeding Awareness Week is an important time to focus on building a supportive environment for women who want to breastfeed and to protect all babies, whether breast or formula fed, from commercial influences. It is imperative that organisations start paying attention to supporting employees through this journey.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
Whilst we understand not everyone has an easy journey with it, for those who are able to do it, breastfeeding has both long-term and short-term health benefits for the mother and the child.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. Especially for those in less developed countries - it is safe, clean and contains antibodies that protect against common childhood illnesses.
Breastmilk supplies all nourishment needed for the initial months of an infant's life and remains a significant source, fulfilling up to half or more of a child's nutritional requirements in the latter half of the first year, and around one-third during the second year of life.
It contains the perfect balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and antibodies that protect babies from various illnesses and infections. Studies have shown that breastfed infants have a reduced risk of gastrointestinal infections, respiratory tract infections, and ear infections. Additionally, breast milk fosters a robust immune system, leading to lower incidences of allergies and chronic diseases later in life.
Breastfeeding not only benefits infants but also has a positive impact on maternal health. Nursing helps the uterus contract after childbirth, reducing postpartum bleeding and aiding in the mother's recovery. Additionally, breastfeeding mothers have a reduced risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis later in life.
For those who are able to breastfeed, it is so important to make sure they do not feel pressure to stop and that they feel fully supported to continue even when they are going back to work.
What are the psychological benefits of breastfeeding?
It's not just the physical but there are also psychological benefits of breastfeeding. Oxytocin is a hormone released by breastfeeding and can aid in the postpartum healing stage by reducing blood loss and aiding the reduction of the size of the uterus back to normal.
Breastfeeding can also help with emotional attachment and bonding of baby to mother via the release of oxytocin and prolactin. The skin-to-skin contact that occurs during breastfeeding is known to have long-lasting benefits on the mental and behavioural health of the baby.
Challenges and the Need for Support
Breastfeeding is not always easy and takes time and practice. Many mothers face difficulties with breastfeeding whether it is their first time or not.
A mother's milk supply can be affected by sleep, diet, and medication. This then can result in a low milk supply, blocked ducts, latching issues, and sore nipples. On top of this, societal barriers and lack of support can discourage some mothers from breastfeeding or make it difficult for them to continue.
The purpose of Breastfeeding Awareness Week is to help build momentum towards empowering women to breastfeed their babies and to stick with it until the desired goals or until the recommended 6 months if not more.
Healthcare professionals, lactation consultants, and breastfeeding support groups play a crucial role in empowering mothers with knowledge and practical tips to overcome breastfeeding obstacles.
At myTamarin we are able to connect you with experts for a 1-1 consultation or you can join a support group through us to share experiences among people experiencing similar challenges.
The Role of Community and Workplace Support:
Creating a breastfeeding-friendly community is essential for ensuring that mothers receive the necessary support and encouragement. Families, friends, and the broader community can all contribute to this cause by understanding the significance of breastfeeding and offering assistance to nursing mothers.
Furthermore, workplaces can play a vital role in supporting breastfeeding mothers by:
- a break allowance to express milk
- a clean, warm, private room (not the toilet) for expressing
- a secure, clean fridge to store expressed milk
- flexible working hours
- having a (regularly discussed) policy in place already so employees don't feel stressed when bringing up the conversation
Let your employees know about your policy and workplace support before they start their maternity leave.
For HR professionals looking at updating return-to-work policies for new parents, have a look at our Early Parenthood Resources to see how you can create a supportive workplace for employees to return to.