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Breastfeeding and Its Global Impact

Antonieta Hernández, MD
Reported by Kathy Kerr
Arlington, Virginia, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 5, October 1999-November 1999, p.109

This session could also have been titled &quotThe History of Breastfeeding Activism." Now that we are at the end of this century it's especially appropriate to look at the global impact of breastfeeding. In the 15th and 16th centuries there was little information about artificial feeding. In the 17th and 18th centuries, wet nursing was in fashion. Babies from wealthy homes were often sent away from their mothers to farmwives to be breastfed and cared for in the fresh country air. Wet nurses were highly regarded. In Egypt, slaves often served as wet nurses which helped to raise their status. However, a child breastfed by his own mother would be more likely to be the heir. Simon Bolivar was a famous Latin American general. When he was born, his mother had tuberculosis and was unable to breastfeed. He was wet nursed for two years and in his letters he frequently referred to his wet nurse with great affection. In Caracas, Venezuela there is a statue honoring her.

In the 19th and 20th centuries artificial baby milk began to be increasingly available. And mother-to-mother support that had been passed down through the generations began to break down. In the latter half of the 20th century there was a huge increase in recognition of the importance of breastfeeding around the globe. La Leche League was founded in 1956. In 1964 Nursing Mothers of Australia was created. In 1968 a breastfeeding organization was founded in Norway. International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) is a partnership of over 150 groups in over 90 countries founded in the early 1970s. In the early 1990s, following the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) meeting on breastfeeding, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) was created. There was a WABA Global Forum in Bangkok in 1996. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) begun in the 1990s is increasing breastfeeding rates around the world.

Throughout the presentation we viewed beautiful slides taken by a Venezuelan father of his breastfeeding family.

There is still a long way to go as we enter the new millennium, but powerful organizations such as La Leche League International, IBFAN and WABA continue to make a difference for mothers, babies and families around the globe.

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