By Cally Gibbs – Cornelius, North Carolina, USA
In a world where money runs economies and financial motives often take over ethical and moral values and ideals, breastfeeding, like many other healthy and natural practices, has taken some hard hits over the years.
Left behind by much flashier, financially-oriented products and companies, breastfeeding has undergone a sly attack as the technological comforts of the industrialized world became more widespread.
Recent research has found that formula companies are “capitalizing on fear related to COVID-19 by using health claims and misinformation about breastfeeding.” One example is social media accounts run by formula companies are being used “as an accomplice to predatory marketing”.  Thus formula companies now seek to take over even breastfeeding support.
Unbeknown to many of us, global breastfeeding advocates continue to work to preserve and enhance our lives. They have fought very hard to make important changes in the way we practice, view and support breastfeeding. We are protected by their shell.
What are breastfeeding advocacy groups?
At the global breastfeeding advocacy level, many admirable groups and organizations work to protect the value of human milk and breastfeeding. As La Leche League Leaders, we see the weight of external societal pressures on those we support. This gives us a unique perspective on how the individual is affected by the environmental pressures they experience.
There is consensus among us: breastfeeding needs to be protected.
Also, there is always more work to do.
The Action, Networking and Advocacy Committee was formed within La Leche League International as our advocacy arm, to contribute to the protective shell of global breastfeeding advocacy. The Committee works tirelessly to ensure that we do our part to best serve our members and the groups we work with. We aim to protect the future of generations to come so that they can benefit from a world that understands the values of breastfeeding and the wonder that human milk is.
It is the planting of trees.
The shade of which we may never enjoy.
Why do breastfeeding advocacy groups exist?
In the breastfeeding world, we have realized that there are many levels and players, from La Leche League Leaders to those who chair the boards and run the committees of the global advocacy groups that shape international politics.
Each of them responds to a very particular need that emerges, depending on the gravity of that need.
On an individual level, breastfeeding is one of the most intimate and encompassing acts in a person’s life, and our role as advocates and empathy givers is of immense importance. Hence, the influence of breastfeeding on a global level is decisive, with effects lasting long after the act has ceased. Breastfeeding becomes a public health imperative, a global goal and a means to ensure that generations ahead will be well.
One reason why breastfeeding is a less protected entity than it deserves: nobody makes money when you breastfeed.
Instead, a lot of people make a great deal of money when we don’t.
Among formula manufacturers, ingredient companies, chemical providers, dairy industries, marketing and advertising firms, and big multinationals, there are a lot of people involved in the Big Money world of infant feeding alternatives.
Where there is money, there is energy: the type of energy and incentives that fund influential marketing campaigns aimed at pushing parents to use alternative feeding products over their own naturally produced human milk.
Reports on the market growth for the infant feeding sector show that “The global infant nutrition market size was valued at $34.2 billion in 2018, and is estimated to reach $61.6 billion by 2026.” 
Breastfeeding advocates have emerged in response to the constant energies and powers exerted by these large companies and organizations. Their purpose is to protect the act of breastfeeding and preserve human milk and the breastfeeding relationship. These are the world’s advocacy groups that help where needed, inform when correct information is not shared, and encourage in the face of great pressure.
Advocacy groups make governments accountable, manufacturers and traders regulated and medical facilities incentivized, so that the rules are followed and our breastfeeding efforts are not undermined and undervalued.
So that we, mothers, fathers, caregivers, are protected in our unawareness of their very existence.
They plant trees.
The Global Breastfeeding Collective
Today, the Global Breastfeeding Collective includes groups at all levels and with different goals to achieve. It includes the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a large membership of other groups – among them La Leche League International. They recognize the undeniable link between socio-health change and financial incentives and therefore call for a further increase in investment in global breastfeeding. Their work involves governments, policy makers, philanthropists, and civil society, with the purpose of elevating the issue of breastfeeding to the highest level of global politics and multifaceted social improvement.
Aside from their efforts at the top level of governance, the Collective assists in the necessary steps that will make their global goals possible, such as building knowledge, support, finances, and practices that will make breastfeeding programs efficient and successful.
They foster leadership and alliances and develop means to ensure accountability in their affiliates and programs, with a global vision of “A world where all mothers and families are empowered, enabled and supported to optimally breastfeed their children, …”. 
They are a part of the protective shell that keeps the breastfeeding families safe, and in an ideal world, should never need to exist.
“Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet!”, 2020 World Breastfeeding Week
During the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week,  as the world stood frozen under immense fear over the ongoing global health crisis, the Collective called on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counseling worldwide. To this end, the Collective produced resources, webinars and in-depth content to show how breastfeeding support programs could assist families from the time infants are born, promoting the health of the breastfeeding dyad.
They have also demonstrated that investing in managing skilled breastfeeding support programs would also save billions of dollars globally, which corresponds to the same costs associated with continued neglect of breastfeeding initiation and continuation.
The Collective’s efforts thus succeeded in echoing an undeniable fact that any woman who has ever held a baby to her breast for the first time knows well: support matters. Information matters. People matter.
Never has such a health-related message rung truer than it does for today’s families, as we navigate through the uncertainty and the fearful environment that is COVID-19 time. Acting now is important, preserving breastfeeding is essential.
Supporting breastfeeding individuals is imperative. The shell needs to be expanded and its work strengthened. Global advocacy is for us all.
What can we do to show our appreciation, commit ourselves and do our part to preserve the efforts these groups have made for our well-being? How can we do the same for the generations that will follow us?
Well, I think the answer may be just this: let us also help care for the trees.
It is only with our support that they can continue their advocacy efforts.
So, ’follow’ their work, ‘share’ their news, ‘tag’ their vision, spread the word, ‘pin’ their resources, raise funds and get involved.
It’s time. Water the trees.
Special thanks to Judy Canahuati and Johanna Rhys-Davies for their valuable contribution as members of the La Leche League International Action, Networking and Advocacy Committee and for the helpful resources they provided on the activity of the Global Breastfeeding Collective.
Cally Gibbs is a La Leche League Leader and a proud member of the La Leche League International Action, Networking and Advocacy Committee (ANAC). She’s a long-time breastfeeding mother of three children and an avid supporter of human milk.
1. Ching C. et al. Old Tricks, New Opportunities: How Companies Violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and Undermine Maternal and Child Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(5):2381. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052381
2. Nitesh Chouhan, Shankar Bhandalkar, Roshan Deshmukh. Global Infant Nutrition Market Expected to Reach $61.6 Billion by 2026. Allied Market Research. 2019. https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/press-release/infant-nutrition-market.html (accessed 26 February 2021).
3. Global Breastfeeding Collective. About the Collective. Vision. https://www.globalbreastfeedingcollective.org/about-collective (accessed 26 February 2021).
4. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet! https://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/2020/ (accessed 27 February 2021).