Breastfeeding needs all of the friends in high places it can get. So with Pope Francis’ recent statements in support of breastfeeding, I can imagine a collective cheer going up among nutrition and early childhood health advocates around the globe. When the leader of the worlds’ Roman Catholics makes such public gestures in support for breastfeeding, people stand up and listen.
Recently while baptizing 32 babies in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope encouraged the mothers to breastfeed their babies. "Today the choir will sing, but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry," Francis said, according to Reuters. "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here."
And again in an interview with La Stampa last month, Pope Francis takes his message about breastfeeding and expands it to childhood hunger and hunger around the globe. Here he is describing a recent General Audience he held:
… the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!
Affirmation from such a closely-followed public figure could hopefully help many new mothers not feel intimidated about breastfeeding in public spaces. Especially when those words come from inside the the Sistine Chapel!
The health benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers are well-documented. Focusing on the nutritional needs of children in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception until the age of 2, has been proven a life-saving investment in both children’s as well as countries’ futures. The right nutrition during this 1,000 day window has an enormous impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. It can also have a profound effect on the long-term health, stability and economic development of entire communities and nations. Formula is simply no substitute for the health benefits that exclusive breastfeeding brings to infants during this time period.
Family members, employers and the community of neighbors surrounding new moms need to become better educated about the benefits of breastfeeding. More awareness around the economic benefits couldn’t hurt either, to help bring around some of the harder to persuade. Policy makers and politicians from the local to country level can help by crafting legislation that strips away some of the barriers to breastfeeding that mothers may face. Everyone and anyone can help in this process.
Pope Francis has gotten a reputation in a relatively short amount of time for being a trail blazing pontiff. Blaze away, dear Francis, and please continue your blessings on breastfeeding. I hope more follow your lead. The overall health and nutrition of children and nations stand to benefit.
Angela Rupchock-Schafer, Social Media Manager, CWS