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A statement for CSW, March, 2000, from

International Lactation Consultant Association,
La Leche League International,
National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy,
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action,

Eradicating Poverty: where does breastfeeding fit in?
Commission on the Status of Women 2002
Theme: eradicating poverty, including through the empowerment of women throughout the life cycle in a globalizing world

Breastfeeding is a highly efficient way to give the best food, care and basic health protection to infants and young children, half of whom are girls. A breastfeeding mother puts her own time and energy into nurturing her child. In return for this investment, she saves the cost of buying specialized infant foods and providing the extra care that is needed when a child sickens without the shield of mother's milk. By breastfeeding, a woman also enhances her own well-being, attains better nutritional status, benefits from a longer interval between pregnancies, and improves her long-term health.

A lactating woman is a food producer. She can contribute 400 liters of milk per child-or more-to her family's economy. This is empowerment at the most basic level.

Poverty and the overwork that comes with poverty increase demands on women. Lack of time and energy may limit a mother's ability to feed and care for her children. A woman in poverty not only lacks resources, she also lacks power to make choices. She is at risk of losing a basic capability: to function as a lactating woman and breastfeeding mother. Reducing poverty can give women more options, including the option to breastfeed their children.

Support which enables a woman to breastfeed keeps the mother and child in charge of infant feeding; it frees them from control by the health care system, the marketplace, or the mother's employer.

One measure of women's empowerment is to track globally the proportion of mothers who breastfeed their infants exclusively until six months of age. Another is to count breastmilk production in national food statistics. At present, only Norway does so.

The conditions that enable a woman to breastfeed optimally are conditions that are good for all women. These include physical safety, adequate food and clean water, gender equality, pay equity and the sharing of family responsibilities.

Globalization reduces trade barriers and brings a freer flow of products to new markets. We call on governments to implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and all relevant World Health Assembly resolutions, which provide protection to breastfeeding women and their infants at a vulnerable stage in the life-cycle.

Disasters: where does breastfeeding fit in?
Commission on the Status of Women 2002 Theme: environmental management
and mitigation of environmental disasters: a gender perspective

Disasters impact disproportionately on pregnant and nursing women and on young children. A family disrupted by an emergency is twice-victimized if breastfeeding is abandoned. Women play a critical environmental role by their ability to provide a safe and secure food supply for their young children. Promoting breastfeeding prior to environmental disasters, and protecting breastfeeding during and after disasters, especially floods and earthquakes, is a fundamental part of disaster mitigation and management.

Humanitarian relief that offers infant formula in an emergency may spring from good intentions, but these efforts undermine a woman's confidence in her power to provide food and protection for her child. It is especially difficult to use formula safely in disaster conditions, and formula feeding also risks the considerable increase in child morbidity and mortality that comes when children lose the unique anti-infective properties of breastmilk. It is the infants in communities where no one remembers how to breastfeed who are most at risk during disasters.

Breastfeeding remains the most environmentally sound infant feeding strategy. To breastfeed a woman needs only food and drinking water, plus knowledge. Bottle-feeding requires fuel to boil water, specially modified milk mixtures, and the paraphernalia of cans, pans, labels, bottles and rubber nipples that will go on to become rubbish once the baby is fed. Breastfeeding is environmentally low-impact; thus, it plays a key role in the environmental management strategies which seek to prevent disasters. Because lactation is a very efficient way to produce food, breastfeeding provides a sustainable food resource in all circumstances.


  • Train humanitarian aid workers on the importance of identifying the breastfeeding mothers, whose ability to sustain life is doubly precious during a disaster.
  • Train aid workers in basic skills to assist mothers to breastfeed.
  • Provide the services of a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant in disaster relief efforts, to upgrade staff skills and advise on re-lactation and non-routine situations.
  • Create a special place where refugee mothers can find help with breastfeeding, feed and care for their babies, and give support to each other.
  • Provide information to all mothers on how to breastfeed exclusively for about 6 months, and support them in doing so.
  • Include breastfeeding protection, promotion, and support in the text of environmental policy documents, recommendations and conventions.
Last updated February 3, 2007 by sjs.
Page last edited .

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