Social Justice at the Core of Breastfeeding Protection, Promotion and Support: A Conceptualization

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Abstract

Despite widespread awareness of the health benefits for both mothers and babies we are far from achieving universal breastfeeding. Breastfeeding rates globally are lower than recommended levels and there are concerns that some global breastfeeding efforts have stalled (1, 2). In addition, we see persistent disparities in breastfeeding rates by race, ethnicity, class and status (3). A growing literature documents how a range of injustices, including gender inequality (7), racism (8), poverty (9), and violence (10, 11) shape whether, how exclusive, and for how long mothers and others will be able to breastfeed or feed their infants human milk. These social injustices and inequities work to privilege breastfeeding even as the health message becomes more mainstreamed and human milk more desirable. A social justice approach could help us address the gender, race, and sexuality-based inequities and injustices in opportunities, resources, status, and power that are influencing the patterns of breastfeeding we see today. The 12th Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference held in 2017 took as its theme Breastfeeding as Social Justice: From Crucial Conversation to Inspired Action. The planning team for that conference identified seven core domains that could help us conceptualize a framework for placing social justice at the core of our work. This paper presents this framework and suggestions for policy and practice that follow.

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