The Perfect Food: Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week
By Robin Stephenson
Breastfeeding was not something I expected to be a key point in a sermon on hunger, until I heard Rev. Dr. James Forbes.
“In God’s world, food is not negotiable,” said the renowned preacher to those gathered for a homiletics course in Portland, Oregon, last year. He paused to let the statement sink in. “God made the arrangement that every child has food to eat.”
Rev. Forbes was talking about breastfeeding. Women are designed to produce not just food, but the perfect food.
Earlier in the year, I visited a local WIC clinic – a domestic nutrition program designed to help women, infants, and children at nutritional risk. Walking in the door, I was greeted by a poster on the wall. One side of the sheet was a short list of the ingredients in formula with a lot of hard-to-pronounce words. The other side included the long list of what comprises breast milk – ingredients that change over time with the baby’s nutritional needs. Wow, I thought, God is an amazing creator!
It is World Breastfeeding Week, a yearly campaign to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. The perfect food is a key resource in combatting hunger and malnutrition.
Globally, malnutrition leads to about 3 million deaths of children under five each year – deaths that could be prevented. There is a critical1,000-day “window of opportunity” between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday where nutrition is vitally important. Investments in nutrition interventions can prevent stunting and other harmful consequences of malnutrition. Nutrients received through breastfeeding provide important protections to fight infection and disease. Malnutrition, especially in children under age 2, can affect brain development, cognitive performance, and even earning potential later in life. Yet, only 37 percent of the world’s babies are breastfed for the recommended six months.
World leaders are starting to see nutrition as an ingredient of economic growth. In this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina said, “We invest so much in infrastructure, in bridges and roads. But most important is grey matter. We really need to invest in that.” It was reported from the Summit that poorly fed children rob Africa of up to 16 percent of its potential growth. Exclusive breastfeeding and early childhood nutrition is one of the best investments Africa can make – one of the best investments every country should make in their children.
Lawmakers in the United States have a role to play. The United States has a global nutrition strategy through USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), but Congress has proposed budget cuts to international programs that promote nutrition. Domestic nutrition programs like WIC, which help American mothers learn about breastfeeding, have seen their funding shrink over the last few years.
Adequate funding for programs that invest in nutrition both here and abroad is a smart investment. After all, in God’s world, food is not negotiable.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.
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