Planetary health – the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends – is essential now more than ever. The interconnected nature of people and the planet requires that we find sustainable solutions that benefit both. Breastfeeding is a sustainable solution that is good for the planet and its people. Every year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) coordinates the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) – a global campaign that aims to inform, anchor, engage and galvanize action on breastfeeding and related issues.

Depletion and destruction of natural resources and emission of major greenhouse gases are at their highest levels for at least the last 800 000 years. We need to protect our planet and our own health by (i) using resources such as land, water and energy sources responsibly, (ii) conserving biodiversity and (iii) consuming with care.

Feeding with breastmilk substitutes from farm-to-table affects the environment and climate due to its production, packaging, distribution and preparation methods. Millions of tonnes of metal formula cans end up in landfills every year, degrading the environment. The breastmilk substitute industry is worth USD70 billion annually and continues to market its products that contravene international recommendations and national legislation. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, violations by the industry have escalated and are a cause of huge concern.

On the other hand, breastmilk production only requires the additional food that a mother needs to consume, therefore using fewer natural resources and resulting in almost no waste. Breastfeeding is one of the best investments for saving infant lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations. Scaling up optimal breastfeeding could prevent more than 823 000 child and 20 000 maternal deaths each year. Not breastfeeding is associated with lower intelligence and results in economic losses of about USD302 billion, annually.

Despite international recommendations, only about 40% of all babies born annually are exclusively breastfed until six months of age and only 45% continue any breastfeeding for up to two years. Often, there is a lack of support to breastfeed, whether in the health system, workplace or community.

Any crisis presents an opportunity for positive, sustainable change and coordinated involvement of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are all affected and an immediate coordinated societal response is required. Breastfeeding contributes positively towards planetary health in several ways – it is sustainable, ecological and good for human health. Now, more than ever, it is vital for national governments to implement and align national policies and crisis intervention methods with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions. Additionally, we have a collective responsibility as advocates and members of civil society organizations to monitor and report violations.

In supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet and overcoming the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to create a warm chain of support for breastfeeding. It is vital that we emphasize the importance of providing skilled support to all breastfeeding families, especially those in vulnerable/emergency situations. Governments, employers, and businesses should be made aware of the investment case for breastfeeding as part of the global sustainable development agenda. Activists and celebrants can find creative ways to move the #WBW2020 campaign online, to stay informed, to advocate virtually, and to engage with actors and stakeholders beyond the breastfeeding movement. This creates an enabling environment that empowers all women/parents to breastfeed optimally.

The #WBW2020 campaign presents a framework for understanding the links between breastfeeding and planetary health. WABA has outlined some of the challenges and present some possible solutions. Now, we need your commitment. Use the resources available on our website, Action Folder, Poster, Social Media Kit and Media Kit to spread awareness of this campaign before, during and after #WBW2020. Pledge to participate in the #WBW2020 celebrations by sending us details of your virtual/physical activities. View events and activities planned for #WBW2020 on our Pledge Map. Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet means leaving no one behind. Together, we can achieve a win-win situation for humanity and the planet.

For more information on the campaign, please contact Nisha Kumaravel [email protected].

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