On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, Action Against Hunger has called attention to several nursing misconceptions that restrain the process amid rising hunger rates in developing countries. The advocacy group aims to have 70% of children breastfed by 2030.
“Breastmilk is not only a safe and nutritious food source for babies, but also acts as a natural vaccine, providing crucial protection against various diseases. It has been shown to support babies’ cognitive development, giving them a vital head start in life,” says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera, head of nutrition at Action Against Hunger UK.
Global climate and conflict-related emergencies substantially rise, affecting access to healthcare and reliable information. To bring awareness to misconceptions about breastfeeding, the organization has compiled a list of the most concerning and debilitating misconceptions.
Predicting, preventing and treating life-threatening hunger and malnutrition is the first port of call to improve the quality of life for all children.
“Although more children under six months of age are only being given breastmilk in this crucial period, there is still a long way to go to reach the global target. This requires more investment to promote and support breastfeeding, especially in emergencies that only increase in frequency,” Rutishauser-Perera explains.
Undernutrition and poor access to healthcare and advice for women is the cause of at least 45% of death among children globally. One of the main misconceptions is that malnourished mothers cannot breastfeed. They can, but they need extra food and fluids to replenish the nutrients lost in the process. Nursing mothers should also be encouraged to breastfeed frequently because the infant needs extra calories.
Moderate malnutrition has little or no effect on milk production, so the mother should be fed and permitted to feed the baby in emergencies. Another common misconception is that stress prevents mothers from producing milk. While stress may temporarily interfere with the flow of milk, it does not affect milk’s production.
Providing wash basins, toilets and showers for increased levels of hygiene is a good solution. These spaces provide the privacy nursing mothers need.
Action Against Hunger creates safe spaces for mothers and babies, including counseling and establishing support networks. One example was during the earthquakes in southern Turkey and northern Syria six months ago, which killed over 50,000 people and left countless families without shelter, clean water and essential services
Another debilitating misconception is that a pregnant woman cannot breastfeed more than one child. In reality, a pregnant woman can breastfeed another child during the pregnancy and once the new baby arrives. Breastfeeding will not damage the developing baby and will benefit the older child.
Many people also believe that a baby that cries a lot must be hungry or overfed. According to Action Against Hunger, babies cry for several reasons, such as colic or challenging situations.
The conflict in Ukraine is another emergency to which Action Against Hunger has responded. In Moldova, a neighboring country experiencing war and its consequences, they have assisted refugees and Moldovans.
Nursing mothers have received counseling from the Action Against Hunger supported Mămica Alăptează (“Breastfeeding Mama”) project, which promotes breastfeeding, provides free individual online and face-to-face consultation services and organizes group workshops for pregnant women and mothers.
Food insecurity persists
Calamitously high food prices have overstretched the UN World Food Program’s capabilities to feed the increasing number of food-insecure nations. The international organization has made painful decisions due to the lack of funds.
Meanwhile, Care International released a report comparing the global food crises in 2022 to 2008, when 97 million people were driven to hunger. The report states that the current situation resulting from COVID-19 increased food and fuel prices from conflict drove 209.6 million people – and counting – to food scarcity and hunger in 2022.
By Inga de Jong