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Making the Case for Mothers: Embrace’s Stance on Breastfeeding

We, the Embrace movement for mothers, believe that all mothers should have  enabling environments that support our efforts to breastfeed our children, for as long as we would wish to do so. 

We believe equal access to wrap-around services and support will allow all mothers to make their breastfeeding goals a reality. As an inclusive movement, we believe that a win for breastfeeding is only a true win if all mothers are included. 

We Trust Mothers 

Mothers are the experts on their children and their family dynamics. Any attempt to try and exclude mothers from the breastfeeding conversation is counterproductive and disregards the power of their lived experience to influence their decisions. Breastfeeding is a motherhood activity and mothers must always be included as expert voices. 

Mothers understand the benefits and value of breastfeeding. Contrary to the myths that low breastfeeding rates are as a result of a lack of understanding of the benefits associated with breastfeeding, research proves that mothers understand that breast milk contains nutrients that aid children’s physical health and cognitive development. According to research done in South Africa by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef, most pregnant women want to breastfeed but encounter a lack of support and enabling environments to do so. 

Shaming mothers for our choices (creating tension over the choices different mothers need to make), whether subtly or overtly, does nothing to influence our behaviour because these tactics have no influence over our circumstances that make exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended six months difficult to attain. It’s not “good mothers” who breastfeed and “bad mothers” who don’t. We need to move from this binary, divisive thinking that overly moralises the choices mothers make.

Shaming mothers shuts down engagement, undermines our agency and has been proved to be ineffective in motivating us towards any forms of desired behaviour change. We acknowledge that there are entities that would seek to exploit mothers and the gaps in breastfeeding support, including the $55 billion formula industry that has been shown to use manipulative marketing tactics to unduly influence mothers’ feeding decisions. 

What needs to change? 

  1. Consistent lactation support antenatally, at birth and post-partum for every mother regardless of their economic means. 
  2. Income support for pregnant women and mothers, via a Maternity Support Grant, to ease the mental burden that makes engaging with the decisions of early motherhood extraordinarily challenging and harder for those with less economic agency.
  3. Paid parental leave for female employees working in the formal and informal sectors
  4. For the Department of Labour to enforce the Code of Good Practice, which is meant to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed and express milk at her workplace.
  5. Respect for the bodily autonomy of all mothers, always acknowledging the individual, physical, intimate act required to feed from your body, and respecting a mother’s right to choose what is best for her and her baby.  
  6. For government to hold the private sector accountable for unethical marketing that seek to undermine the confidence of mothers in their ability to breastfeed, as outlined in Regulation R991 relating to foodstuffs for infants and young children.

In the absence of a comprehensive plan that centres mothers as the ‘breastfeeders’, it is highly unlikely that South Africa will meet the WHO’s global target of 70% for exclusive breastfeeding by 2030. As a movement of mothers and mother-supporters, and working for mothers and their families, we are committed to the work of making these positive challenges a reality. 

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