Should World Breastfeeding Week & Awareness Month be Moved?

It’s a glorious day here on the East Coast, the kind of pre-fall day where there is not a cloud in the sky and the sun is eye-searingly bright without being too hot, and is at already at an angle signaling shorter days ahead.  There’s a perfect gentle breeze.  It’s the kind of day where I want to race to the beach with my kids, or make plum ginger sorbet, or go on a leisurely bike ride.  And for the umpteenth time, I am wishing that World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month took place in a different time of the year.

World Breastfeeding Week was founded by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) in 1992.  The purpose was to unify a global breastfeeding promotion strategy, and what started as a day’s celebration turned into a week every August 1-7.  It is now celebrated by over 170 countries and is endorsed by UNICEF and WHO, the World Health Organization.      Some countries have gone on to celebrate breastfeeding for the entire month of August–designating it as Breastfeeding Awareness Month–and from what I’ve been able to tell, some countries celebrate breastfeeding in September or orther times of the year.    Some state governors, like California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have officially designated all of August to be Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but it doesn’t seem as wide-spread.  From the World Breastfeeding Week website:

“Overall coordination of World Breastfeeding Week is done at the WABA Secretariat in Penang, Malaysia, which includes the selection of the theme and slogan, identifying resource persons for a specific theme and the preparation and dissemination of World Breastfeeding Week materials such as the calendar announcement, posters, action folders and banners. These advocacy materials serve to stimulate action among local groups, governments, UN and other agencies and other issue organisations for their own World Breastfeeding Week.”

I’m not sure why August was picked, and I’d like to learn why.   I’m writing myself a note to ask our board member, Marsha Walker of  WABA’s little sister, NABA.  but I can see in some ways why it makes sense.   It seems that statistically, the most births happen from July to November (thanks to fall and winter snuggling), with August scoring the most U.S.  births in 2006.   So, maybe the thinking from the folks at the WABA was that breastfeeding should be celebrated and promoted at a time when there are a lot of new babies around.     It certainly makes for lots of potential participants in simultaneous breastfeeding contests, like the efforts in Portland, Oregon this year aimed at breaking the world record held by Manila in the Philippines:  3,738 women breastfed at the same time in 2006.   Apparently it was quite hot because in the video it looks like there were 3,738 fans in motion at the same time too.

So here you have the first of several problems with having World Breastfeeding Week in August—the heat.   I think it’s harder to organize events, celebrations or simultaneous nursing in public when it’s hot outside.   Everybody is more languid, and tired, babies are more fussy if they get too hot . . . though they do nurse more often, which makes for more photo ops of the babies!   The moms, on the other hand, may not be too keen on being photographed when they are dripping with sweat.      Moms who are not so comfortable nursing in public may opt out altogether, because coverups and some slings or infant carrier wraps  can get really roasting in summer.    The logical place to organize a simultaneous nursing contest is a pool, but we’ve already seen how nursing at the pool  freaks people out.  

The biggest problem with World Breastfeeding Week, though, is that most people vacation in August.   In Europe, where vacation leave is 6 weeks, many families take the whole month off.   Even in the work-a-holic United States, lots of families take a week or two off, and try to unplug from technology, TV and the media.    From a marketing standpoint, I am not sure it makes sense to schedule a promotion of breastfeeding when not too many people are paying attention, or even if they are, are not motivated to take action.   Some people argue that it works in our favor, because the media is hungry for news and there isn’t as much competition.   I’m not a marketing or PR expert, but I don’t agree.   I think that breastfeeding is a hot and underestimated topic, and that with a good strategy, we could grab the media and the nation’s attention any time of year.

The last problem as I see it is that although it might make sense to celebrate breastfeeding right when most babies are born, in my opinion that is too late.   Too much breastfeeding education takes place after the baby is born, when the mother is at her most vulnerable and exhausted.   Best for Babes would like to see more moms preparing for breastfeeding in the second and third trimester, just as they prepare the nursery, and take childbirth education courses.   Sure,  there are some things you just can’t get about breastfeeding until you do it, but building your confidence, being exposed to images of breastfeeding that help normalize it, becoming educated about the “Booby Traps” and coming up with a plan to navigate them, is too important to postpone.   At Best for Babes, we believe that breastfeeding success will increase and more mothers will be able to reach their personal breastfeeding goals when they are inspired, prepared and empowered long before the birth of their baby.   It’s like showing up for a race without having trained, without a water bottle or running gear:  you may finish but chances are it will be far more painful and disappointing than you wanted it to be.   (Yes, we’ve been using the race analogy for years–see The Learning Curve–and a few months ago we perfected it with the help of our facebook fans;  we came to the consensus that breastfeeding in our unfriendly culture is like being told to run a marathon in stilettos while people are throwing tomatoes at you.  It’s a handy analogy because Danielle is a runner, and I wish I was!)

So, what do you think?   Should we move World Breastfeeding Week and Awareness Month to a time when it would be easier to galvanize action and command media attention, without literally being too hot and bothered?  Are we always going to be fighting an uphill marketing battle?   Will we ever be able to achieve the type of public awareness and grassroots action that Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) does–or is that just because their marketing efforts are better organized?    Or is August=boobs already ingrained in our consciousness making a switch too cumbersome?  I’d love to hear what leading media outlets think, or PR and marketing firms like the ones that work with the larger breastfeeding companies.   In my opinion, I would love to see Breastfeeding Awareness Month moved to the spring–say April–to coincide with when the largest number of women are expecting (and April is Earth month, too, so it’s a nice tie-in to the environmental benefits of breastfeeding).   Or how about connecting it to Women’s History Month, in March, or moving it to June, so that it follows Pregnancy Awareness Month

Whether we leave it be or move it,  Best for Babes will work to make breastfeeding—and especially booby trap!—awareness bigger and more powerful, so that it is given at least the same respect that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is given—and since Danielle is a young breast cancer survivor, we feel we can say that comfortably.   Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer and so many other diseases, isn’t it high time to give “the mother of all causes” its rightful place in the calendar?

5 thoughts on “Should World Breastfeeding Week & Awareness Month be Moved?

  1. In Canada Breastfeeding week falls in October. I think that’s a great time of year. Not too cold, people have settled into their September routines and babies born in August are old enough for new moms to feel confident to take out in public.

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  2. Let’s not forget that this is WORLD Breastfeeding Week and that this WABA is the World Alliance. August may be hot in the USA, but it is winter in many other parts of the world. The choice of date and month was most likely not made with the US in mind.

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  3. I think its a great idea to move the time. I, as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, have many things to take into consideration when I am planning some kind of event. I live in Oklahoma and it is extremely hot in August, usually one of the hottest! I know I wanted to plan a get together at the park but when asked, my mom’s really didn’t want to go sit in the hot. I think October is a great time. Or even in the spring!

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  4. Excellent post. I think World Breastfeeding Month could be more powerful if it is done during a low vacation time. I imagine that there is a month in the fall or spring when most of the world is at work or at home (and not on vacation). It would be nice if the chosen month was not the hottest or the coldest month anywhere. Thanks for looking into this.

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