In honor of World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month — which kicks off Aug. 1 — it seems like the perfect time to have a look at this collection of beautiful photos of moms breastfeeding around the world from Lansinoh's campaign with photographer Tina Boyadjieva. While moms deserve the world's support every single day of the year, this week (and month) in particular helps shine a light on the amazing health benefits of breastfeeding — for both mom and baby — on a global scale as well as the time, dedication, and struggles nursing mothers experience.
While Breastfeeding Awareness Month takes place throughout the entire month on August, every year World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7. According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, 2018's slogan is "Foundation of Life" because "in a world filled with inequality, crises and poverty, breastfeeding is the foundation of lifelong good health for babies and mothers."
Indeed, breastfeeding is, according to WHO, "the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need." Additionally, according to UNICEF, breastfeeding babies in the early months of life, especially the first six months, has a "profound impact" of their survival and health as breast milk is loaded with key nutrients.
With that said, however, mothers who wish to breastfeed face many obstacles. Though many mothers know that breastfeeding is hailed as the optimal way to provide nutrients to their baby, they'll stop sooner than recommended for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of knowledge and support from their workplace as well as their families, insufficient maternity leave, and painful and frustrating lactation problems, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
That's why World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month are so important. And ahead of this year's celebration, breastfeeding supply company Lansinoh partnered with Boyadjieva, who traveled to more than a dozen countries to document breastfeeding mothers from all walks of life. The goal of Lansinoh's "Breastfeeding Around The World" photography campaign is to help "showcase the universal experience of breastfeeding regardless of geographic and cultural differences," Zenda Sims, associate director of global marketing at Lansinoh, tells Romper via email.
Boyadjieva captured images of mothers from nearly all corners of the globe. The New York City-based photographer tells Romper via email that she traveled to five continents and found that although each mother's circumstances and experiences were unique, the "love a mother feels for her child is universal."
"The mothers I had the privilege to get to know and to photograph, were from different ethnicities, religions, and financial backgrounds, but the connection with their child was precious and invaluable," Boyadjieva says. "Many of the mothers had to overcome physical difficulties of breastfeeding, but each one of them repeated that the love and bond with baby is worth any pain." And these photos beautifully captured that bond.
Hundreds of women in Argentina recently protested restrictions placed on breastfeeding in public after a mom was removed from Buenos Aires Square by police for nursing her baby there, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Interestingly enough, though, The Bubble reported in 2016 that there are no laws in Argentina that prohibit a mother from breastfeeding in public — a paradox that happens all too often in the United States and prompts similar "nurse-ins" led by moms to defend their rights.
In recent years, and despite its battle with the Zika epidemic, Brazil has made strides in reducing the country's child mortality rate by mothers breastfeeding more often and longer and with the implementation of milk banks nationwide, according to HuffPost.
This could be because, as The Atlantic reported, the country "aggressively promotes nursing," whether it's at home or in public, and put a ban on advertising infant formula.
According to Boyadjieva, China was among the few countries she felt public breastfeeding was not completely normalized. And that observation seems to be supported by the fact that breastfeeding rates in China are "low and declining," according to a 2013 report from UNICEF.
Low breastfeeding rates in China could be due to cultural norms, such as children being cared for by their grandparents, as well as marketing that's amped up the popularity of formula, according to SBS News.
A 2014 study by France’s Institute for Public Health Surveillance, according to The Local, found that among other European countries, French mothers breastfeed at a "far lower rate." Additional research, as reported by The Guardian, found that France has the "lowest breastfeeding rate in the western world."
These rates, it seems, are due to a lack of knowledge of its benefits and cultural beliefs, as a separate 2014 study found that 41 percent of French women thought it was "embarrassing" to breastfeed in public, according to Women Across Frontiers. The publication also reported that breastfeeding rates in France may reflect the fact that parental leave is shorter than in other European countries, something that French parents have fought to extend, according to CNBC.
Though there are no laws in place that restrict German women from breastfeeding in public, according to The Independent, mothers do face discrimination for doing so since there is also "no law protecting it."
"Although breastfeeding in public in Germany in principle is allowed, café or restaurant owners can at any time exercise its domiciliary rights and discriminate against [breastfeeding] mothers," Johanna Spanke, who started an online petition in 2016 calling for laws to protect mothers breastfeeding in public, told The Independent.
Research on current breastfeeding rates in Germany are lacking, but mothers certainly aren't alone in facing these types of societal barriers.
In recent years, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding infants 6 months and under has increased, according to UNICEF, but there is still work to be done. According to a UNICEF report published in Medium this past April, only about half of babies under 6 months in Guatemala are exclusively breastfed.
Improved rates could be thanks to the Ministry of Health's initiative to promote breastfeeding in hospitals as well as the implementation of providing milk banks in hospitals, according to UNICEF, though the country is still working to make support groups for mothers more available on the "local level."
Supporting breastfeeding mothers is key, according to the CDC, whether it comes from a mother's partner, workplace, or the government.
In 2017, the Israel Pediatrics Association warned that breastfeeding has become a “major public health issue” and advised that doctors should be doing more to encourage mothers and to avoid suggesting infant formula when breastfeeding is an option, according to Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.
The government's health department provides extensive information on the benefits of breastfeeding and even advice for partners and relatives looking for ways to support a new mom. Still, though, it seems that more awareness is needed to help mothers feel comfortable, more informed, and supported to breastfeed if that's what they wish to do.
Kenya's breastfeeding rates have seen a dramatic increase recently. As reported by The Conversation, in 2015 61 percent of Kenyan mothers with children 6 months old and younger exclusively breastfed, which is incredible when you compare 2003's 13 percent.
This is likely due to the Kenyan government working hard to promote breastfeeding, according to The Conversation and Global Nutrition Report, but more work needs to be done to normalize it and mothers need to be supported more by the law. And hopefully with World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month in full swing, these messages of protection will reach those who can enable change.
As of 2013, according to Fox News, just one in seven mothers in Mexico exclusively breastfed their infants in the first six months of life, which could be due to factors such as "baby food ads" and "little regulation of formula companies."
With these rates in mind, one year later, as NPR reported, health officials in Mexico launched an unsuccessful campaign to promote breastfeeding, which didn't tackle issues such as poverty and poor nutrition. It also didn't provide support for mothers who work long hours and find it difficult to breastfeed or dedicate time to pump, according to NPR.
According to WHO, thanks to training health care providers and implementing hospital initiatives, Peru's breastfeeding rates have "increased dramatically" over the last couple decades. But, as of 2013, rates have hit a standstill and there's "evidence of a downward trend" in some parts of the country, according to WHO. The health organization's representative in Peru, Fernando Leanes, said some factors could be to blame:
Although Peru has been a leader in terms of regulations to promote breastfeeding, we are seeing increases in donations of infant formula to mothers and in marketing and “gifts” to health facility staff and health services from formula makers.
Of course, there are many reasons why women stop breastfeeding and the country's past efforts are promising. But it's also encouraging to hear that it's "common to see mothers breastfeeding without shame in public," according to Well Rounded.
As seen in other countries around the world, a "high percentage of mothers" in Poland breastfeed after giving birth, but many will stop in the months following, according to WHO.
As the Financial Times reported, breastfeeding, particularly in public, is controversial in Poland and some women feel they simply aren't supported in a number of ways. "Whatever issue we look at — breastfeeding in public, the expertise of medical staff, the knowledge of mothers, the advertisement of formula milk — the topic has been neglected and no one has ever done enough to fix it," Agata Aleksandrowicz, a Polish blogger, told the Financial Times.
Like in many other countries, there's been a push to actively promote breastfeeding in South Africa in recent years, according to HuffPost, but there are still some kinks to work out, such as longer maternity leave policies and providing mothers, in public and at work, with spaces to breastfeed or pump.
As The Conversation reported in 2018, though change has been "slow," breastfeeding rates in South Africa "are at an all time high" right now. And although research done by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, has found that South Africa's breastfeeding rates still fall short in comparison to other African countries, the progress it's seen thus far is certainly encouraging.
Mothers in Spain face common obstacles when it comes to breastfeeding, such as demanding work schedules that make it difficult to nurse and pump along with the convenience of infant formula, according to The Local.
These barriers appear to be evidenced by a Spanish politician who breastfeed her 5-month-old baby in parliament in 2016. According to HuffPost, Carolina Bescansa did so "to highlight the struggles faced by working mothers" in Spain.
In 2017, UNICEF reported that Sri Lanka's breastfeeding rates rank among the top 23 countries in the world, though no country "fully meets recommended standards for breastfeeding."
According to Tim Sutton, UNICEF's Sri Lanka representative, 82 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months, a rate that seems to reflect the country, one of the first in the world, adopting the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes more than two decades ago, according to the Colombo Gazette.
According to Boyadjieva, Turkey was another country she felt breastfeeding was not as normalized as it was in others. In fact, according to Parents, one-fifth of Turkish women "think breastfeeding in public is wrong," citing a 2014 study.
However, The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative noted in 2015 that breastfeeding is "very common" in Turkey and there is a "strong belief among the population about breast milk being a sacred miracle."
Still, it seems a stigma exists when it comes to publicly nursing, which is why awareness goes a long way in normalizing breastfeeding.
According to UNICEF's most recent figures, 66 percent of children under the age of 6 months are exclusively breastfed in Uganda, while just 2 percent are not breastfed at all.
If mothers are able to, breastfeeding is especially critical in poorer, less developed countries of the world as it's free and "breast milk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive," as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, explained, according to UNICEF.
In the United Kingdom, breastfeeding rates are among of the lowest in the world, according to UNICEF. These figures are due to a plethora of factors, which include, as detailed by The Independent:
Reduced breastfeeding support, cuts in public health funding, negative attitude towards breastfeeding in public and a lack of knowledge of the health benefits of breast milk all contribute to Britain having some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world.
Mothers in the United Kingdom face similar obstacles as women in other countries around the world do. Of course, breastfeeding isn't always easy or the right option for some women, but awareness and providing mothers with support and knowledge even before giving birth are some key ways to encourage breastfeeding.
Though breastfeeding in public is now finally legal in all 50 states, according to USA Today, it's still controversial in some parts of the country and mothers are still not getting the support they need. As reported by PBS, breastfeeding rates in every state are improving, but the Unites States still has one of the lowest "initiation rates" when compared to other industrialized nations, citing the most recent data from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
There are racial and socioeconomic disparities to address when figuring out how to best support moms who wish to breastfeed. For example, according to the CDC, breastfeeding rates for black and white children in the United States have increased over the past 10 years, but "racial disparities persist." The CDC noted, "Interventions specifically addressing barriers to breastfeeding for black women are needed." As such, Black Breastfeeding Week exists — this year is takes place from Aug. 25 to 31 — to help bring awareness to these disparities and support mothers.
As evidenced by these photos, at its surface, each mother's breastfeeding experience is unique, complete with its own joys and struggles. "It is inspiring, beautiful, and powerful seeing mothers across cultures, ethnicities, countries, and religions share moments of their lives that at a glance look uncannily similar," Sims tells Romper. "Once you strip the external 'noise' out of the way, you see a mom loving, nourishing, and bonding with her child."
No matter where they are in the world, moms face a lot of obstacles to take care of their children. And moms who can't breastfeed as well as moms who choose to formula-feed for a slew of reasons should not be forgotten. All moms deserve to have accurate information and accessible support.