The Future Talks: Infant and Young Child Nutrition – The First Form of Food Security
Why are youth who have never breastfed passionate about protecting breastfeeding in Antigua and Barbuda?
The answer is simple. We believe that protecting breastfeeding is everybody’s business! The theme for last week’s World Breastfeeding Week, “Protect Breastfeeding: a Shared Responsibility” encompasses the approach that we have taken as members of the National Breastfeeding Committee in Antigua and Barbuda.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months and continued breastfeeding to two years and beyond for optimal child growth and development. Breastfeeding supports child survival, health and overall well being and therefore optimal breastfeeding provides a good foundation for lifelong success and can be used as a strategy for achieving a healthier and more productive nation and region. In this regard, the protection and promotion of breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective investments that countries can make as they seek to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Optimal breastfeeding can help drive the achievement of multiple SDGs which include ending hunger (SDG 2); promoting good health and wellbeing (SDG 3); supporting quality education (SDG 4); and promoting gender equality (SDG 5).
Breastfeeding provides a variety of benefits for the infant, mother, family, community, and planet. Breast milk changes to meet the baby’s needs and is the perfect food for infants. It provides the perfect combination of nutrients and offers protection from certain illnesses and infections. Breastfeeding may lower a mother’s risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers as well as contribute to weight loss and reduced postpartum bleeding. Breastfeeding offers financial benefits as families do not need to purchase breast milk substitutes and a host of pricey accessories and equipment. Additionally, the protective effects of breastfeeding may mean less money spent on doctors visits and medication because of sick children. Employers can also benefit due to increased productivity as workers may require less time off to care for sick children. Breastfeeding is also the most environmentally friendly infant feeding option because it is not factory produced and the act itself generates no waste. As such, the responsibility for protecting breastfeeding extends beyond the healthcare team, and for a successful breastfeeding experience mothers need support from a variety of areas. Protecting breastfeeding does not rest solely in the hands of health professionals but we as private citizens, corporate entities and civil societies share the responsibility.
Optimal breastfeeding has also been linked to reduced risk of obesity and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) during childhood and in later life. As the region faces growing challenges related to the burden of childhood obesity and NCDs, interventions related to breastfeeding provide a unique opportunity for protecting a child’s current and future health thus helping to secure the region’s future. Latin American and Caribbean boasts one of the highest global averages for exclusive breastfeeding. However, at just 38% this regional average falls below the global target of the WHO’s Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition to have at least 50% of all babies exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life by 2025. Mirroring other Caribbean countries, Antigua and Barbuda has had its share of challenges in promoting breastfeeding however the twin island nation has also achieved amazing success.
Antigua and Barbuda’s National Breastfeeding Committee has used a range of policies, programmes and people to help protect and support breastfeeding across the nation. The committee’s recent work on the new infant and child feeding policy and ongoing efforts to certify the main hospital in Antigua and Barbuda under the WHO and UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative are two noteworthy initiatives. In addition, the country’s National Breastfeeding Week, held annually in September, is a highlight of the year as it promotes a holistic approach to protect breastfeeding with targeted events for both mothers and health care workers. For the last three years the Committee has held “Latch-On” events at community health centres and then virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During these sessions mothers can receive advice and practical tips from health professionals and other mothers to help ensure a better breastfeeding experience. The event usually culminates in a “Kumbaya Moment” in which all babies are put to the breast and mothers are able to experience a sense of camaraderie and support.
Many health professionals have openly shared their concerns about young mothers’ apparent refusal to breastfeed or have many myths as to why they choose not to breastfeed. However, after observing and speaking with younger women at breastfeeding events and local clinics and the hospital, it can be said that younger mothers are indeed breastfeeding as they have been doing research, learning from other young mothers on social media, or receiving some sort of breastfeeding support or education. Mothers, both young and the young at heart, who have breastfed and have become advocates for breastfeeding, in some way, have received some sort of breastfeeding support. Today, breastfeeding support comes in various forms. For Antigua and Barbuda, this support may look like a nurse educating and demonstrating the mechanisms of breastfeeding to a patient and a nutritionist educating patients on the maternal and child benefits of breastfeeding. However, some of these heroes who have educated mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding and how to do so effectively, have taken breastfeeding support a step further.
A local public health professional, who is a mother herself, started a support network for mothers in Antigua and Barbuda and across the world. This initiative is called Breastfeeding Support Network and has been active for several years. In this network, mothers are given 24-hour extensive support through Facebook and WhatsApp. Mothers receive educational tips on breastfeeding, are able to discuss topics surrounding breastfeeding and are able to reach out to the network themselves to get advice on issues they are having with breastfeeding and their baby; mothers can even be connected with a health professional through the network. This can occur at any hour of the day and someone will be there to answer when called. This network has helped women across the seas and has been highlighted time and again for its immense support for the breastfeeding community at Breastfeeding Committee meetings and during Breastfeeding Week in Antigua.
Additionally, a young nurse, also a mother in Antigua, has taken breastfeeding support and advocacy a step further, but this time in the form of a business. This nurse curated a business named Breastie Essentials due to a lack of breastfeeding accessories available in Antigua and Barbuda. Breastie Essentials caters to expectant and nursing mothers by supplying breastfeeding equipment and accessories such as breastfeeding pumps, breast milk storage bags and nursing pads, just to name a few. Outside of providing breastfeeding accessories, educational material is also provided on the business’ social media pages. The nurse herself, also educates her customers by giving professional advice, sharing her personal experiences and showing how breastfeeding can be done effectively.
While fantastic work has been done to protect and support breastfeeding in Antigua and Barbuda there is room for improvement as we advance towards our goals. Breastfeeding is critical to achieving the sustainable development goals and the goals set by the Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. As breastfeeding advocates we have seen the need for additional legislation and policies as well as continued education and multisectoral partnerships that empower, and support breastfeeding mothers . In Antigua and Barbuda promoting breastfeeding when mothers return to work after maternity leave continues to be a key area for intervention. Many mothers begin introducing breast milk substitutes to infants long before six months in preparation for their return to work. Working mothers must be supported to help them achieve exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Advocating for “breastfeeding friendly” workplaces where breastfeeding mothers are granted flexible work hours, adequate break times, and provided with a comfortable, secure space to breastfeed or express breastmilk is a crucial step. Advocacy should also extend to lobbying for increasing the length of paid maternity leave. Currently, mothers in Antigua and Barbuda are only allotted three months (13 weeks) of maternity leave which poses a challenge for mothers wishing to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the recommended six months.
Achieving our goals for optimal breastfeeding is possible! However, no single entity or sector is capable of doing this alone. Developing strong partnerships with breastfeeding champions is crucial for achieving sustainable change. Protecting breastfeeding is a shared responsibility that provides benefits for all.
The Future Talks: Infant and Young Child Nutrition – The First Form of Food Security written by:
Charity Dublin is a nutritionist and wellness advocate. She is a member of Antigua and Barbuda’s National Breastfeeding Committee and is involved in activities geared towards improving infant and young child feeding practices in the country.
Yumani Nedd is a young public health professional. With a passion for public health, she has developed a love for child and maternal health in particular. Yumani advocates for breastfeeding as it has long term benefits in preventing chronic illnesses which in turn contributes to healthier communities.
Both Charity and Yumani are active members of Healthy Caribbean Youth
 WHO. (2021, June 9). Breastfeeding. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_2.
 Victora, C. G., Bahl, R., Barros, A. J., França, G. V., Horton, S., Krasevec, J., Murch, S., Sankar, M. J., Walker, N., Rollins, N. C., & Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet (London, England), 387(10017), 475–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01024-7
 UNICEF. (2021, July 12). Infant and young child feeding. UNICEF DATA. https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/infant-and-young-child-feeding/#more–1714.