Letter to High Commissioner for Human Rights

Chief spokesperson for the Media Center of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani

Dear Ravina,
We write on behalf of the Advocacy, Networking and Action Committee, La Leche League International (LLLI) with regards to a tweet by the UN Human Rights: https://twitter.com/unhumanrights/status/1541434818361282568

The tweet stated:
The provision of #care is a shared responsibility of society as a whole. We need to redistribute care work, by dismantling gender stereotypes that assign care responsibilities to women & girls only.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told UN Human Rights Council.”

We agree that the provision of care is a shared responsibility of society as a whole. It is important that the burden of care should not be the sole responsibility of women and girls only.

However, we feel that the photo that accompanies the tweet does not reflect the vital provision of care as a shared societal responsibility that the High Commissioner is referring to.

The image shows a newborn being bottle-fed by a male presenting person, whom we might assume is a father of the baby or another relative or friend.

What is wrong with the image in the context of the tweet’s vital message?

It is important to note that both WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night.

The United Nations have been clear that Breastfeeding is a Human Rights Issue and that all nations need to take steps to protect the rights of the breastfeeding dyad. This includes tightly regulating inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes and ensuring the provision of accurate education and support on the advantages of breastfeeding to society and to parents (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 24 (1) (e))

 “Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.” https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1

The use of bottles by someone (parents) is not a violation of the Code. However idealizing bottle-feeding in informational materials is a violation of article 4.2 of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes:

Article 4.2 Informational and educational materials, whether written, audio, or visual, dealing with the feeding of infants and intended to reach pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children, should include clear information on all the nutrition, and the preparation for and maintenance of breast-feeding; (c) the negative effect on breast-feeding of introducing partial bottle-feeding; (d) the difficulty of reversing the decision not to breast-feed; and (e) where needed, the proper use of  infant formula, whether manufactured industrially or home-prepared. When such materials contain information about the use of infant formula, they should include the social and financial implications of its use; the health hazards of inappropriate foods or feeding methods; and, in particular, the health hazards of unnecessary or improper use of infant formula and other breast-milk substitutes. Such materials should not use any pictures or text which may idealize the use of breast-milk substitutes.

Across the world, mothers and parents who have chosen to breastfeed their baby continue to deal with pervasive myths from industry and society that undermine breastfeeding and health, including that breastfeeding is not as good as formula. Families are repeatedly told that the only way to care for an exhausted mother or breastfeeding parent is to persuade them to leave their baby to be bottle fed by someone else. The choice to use an image of a person bottle feeding a baby to illustrate the concept of shared societal care, unfortunately does little to dispel these pervasive myths and may even perpetuate them. This damaging “quick fix” misunderstanding of how to reduce the care burden on women and girls can undermine breastfeeding and ultimately the health of breastfeeding dyads.

How can the provision of care be well illustrated as a shared responsibility?

Care of a newborn entails change of diapers, giving a bath, care of older children, care of the breastfeeding mother or nursing parent and their needs, carrying the baby, cooking and shopping for the family, reading or caring for the needs of other children. There is a huge range of activities outside of feeding a baby with a bottle, all of which support the ongoing health and well-being of a new family and a breastfeeding dyad.

If there is a need to provide expressed breastmilk or infant formula to the baby, instead of using a bottle, a support person or partner could also have been shown using a cup or a spoon.

Thank you for the opportunity to write to you with regards to the provision of care as a shared responsibility as a society.  We would be glad to offer our time to discuss this further in the context of breastfeeding support. You are absolutely right that it is important to get the word out to lighten the burden of responsibility of the women and children.  In the case of a baby, it is important to continue to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. This will help reduce the death and mortality of children under 5 globally which is a responsibility of each and every one of us.

Yours sincerely,
The La Leche League International Advocacy, Networking and Action Committee

Judy Canahuati
Sara Dale-Bley
Sarah Denniston
Cally Gibbs
Hiroko Hongo
Pushpa Panadan
Johanna Rhys-Davies
Juanita Jauer Steichen