Tuesday marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. All across the globe, communities gather to celebrate, educate, and support not just breastfeeding moms, but systems that support and encourage breastfeeding. For one country, breastfeeding isn't a topic that should be left solely to breastfeeding mothers when the time comes: According to the BBC, the United Kingdom wants to take a revolutionary approach to breastfeeding education. Neena Modi, professor and president of the U.K.'s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says that breastfeeding should be taught in public schools.
To clarify: It's not that Modi thinks a lactation consultant should be showing elementary school kids the mechanics of breastfeeding, but rather schools should use instructional time devoted to health topics to normalize breastfeeding for children. "When we asked groups of children and young people what they thought about breastfeeding, we were really surprised — and a little bit upset — to hear the word 'yucky' being used by them," Modi told the BBC. The United Kingdom has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, according to a 2016 report by The Lancet; only one-third of U.K. babies receive breast milk at 6 months, with breastfeeding rates dropping down to a staggering 0.5 percent by the time those babies are a year.
As a mom who breastfed during the hottest summer months, I can relate to kids who think breastfeeding is "yucky" — but there's something to be said for the fact that these kids think the act of a baby eating the food it needs to survive is yucky. "Yucky" is a pretty subjective word, especially for kids — I get it. To kids, broccoli is yucky. But the act of eating broccoli shouldn't be seen as yucky — and that's what makes Modi's argument that normalizing the act of breastfeeding for children while they're in school is an important one.
For British moms, one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding is that they feel socially pressured to get back to "normal" life as soon as possible following the birth of their babies, according to The Guardian. As a result, shame around breastfeeding is high in the United Kingdom. Hell, even British actress and Game of Thrones star Lena Headey couldn't escape being shamed by her own nurse following the birth of her daughter in 2015. Headey told The New York Times last month how her hospital nurse literally said, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as she prepared to breastfeed her newborn daughter hours after birth.
As with the spirit and purpose of World Breastfeeding Week, the idea of normalizing breastfeeding for children while they're in school goes a long way to normalizing breastfeeding within broader society. If kids can be taught that breastfeeding isn't "yucky" — that it's a tremendously beneficial and vital way that human parents feed human babies — then hopefully, those same kids won't feel so embarrassed or uncomfortable about breastfeeding then they're older.
It takes a village, they say — and it certainly takes a village to come together to normalize breastfeeding for the youngest members of the tribe, too.