Menu ENN Search

Born into this World: Breastfeeding and the Politics of Infant and Young Child Feeding

By Marie McGrath, ENN Co-Director on 9 July 2018

Marie has worked on infant and young child feeding in emergencies since 2001. She coordinates the IFE Core Group, an international interagency collaboration on infant and young child feeding in emergencies.

In the Irish language, there’s a phrase “rírá agus ruaille buaille” (trans: uproar, hubbub, tumult, commotion, ruction, rough & tumble)” which captures the essence of the escapades of the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) around the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Resolution in which ENN has been closely involved. Here’s our version of events.

IYCF Ops Guide

ENN and the IFE Core Group met last December to set our priorities as a collective – securing an IYCF Resolution with specific reference to the recently revamped Operational Guidance on IFE, a key policy guidance produced by the group, was deemed top of the list and ENN ran with it. Many months followed of collegiate collaboration between a hearty global mix of non-governmental organisation (NGOs), civil societies, United Nations (UN) agencies, and countries – Member States who are at the heart of the WHO constitution – to develop a rich, tight and action-oriented resolution. The WHA theme of ‘Universal Health Coverage for all’ gave us a key ‘in’ to connect IYCF with health. With Ministries of Health as the key target audience, we saw a wonderful opportunity to emphasise emergency preparedness around policy (such as the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes) and capacity development, and to link humanitarian and development programming. Ecuador stepped up to sponsor this Resolution and brokered endless discussions between countries to enrich the content and winning further buy-in and ownership.

In tandem, we secured (against stiff competition) an official side event at the WHA, led by Bangladesh, Ireland and Madagascar, and co-sponsored by Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Ecuador, France, Nigeria, The Philippines and Thailand. We aimed to help make the case for the IYCF Resolution and to brief Member States on key guidance and resources, to help them deliver on commitments. We also collaborated with the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Civil Society Network with a screening of the MILK film, an award-winning documentary that, in the Director Noemi Weis’s words, “brings a universal perspective on the politics, commercialization and controversies surrounding birth and infant feeding”. Little did we know the level of political wrangling that was to unfold – in fact, we seemed to move into Spielberg movie territory...

We entered WHA week with the news of a counter IYCF Resolution from the United States. What transpired is detailed in a New York Times article shared in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper today (9th July 2018). Our WHA week was dominated with trying to protect and secure a tight IYCF Resolution that would not only have value, but which also wouldn’t introduce risk; a weak Resolution, many said, would be worse than no Resolution at all. Rooms, corridors and corners became the site of frantic discussions. WhatsApp groups went crazy with lobbying. Social media was ablaze as supporters were galvanised to stand strong. All countries (Member States) have an equal vote and say at the World Health Assembly; but what transpired undermined this important principle. Some questioned whether true “consensus” was really achieved; a tricky place to get to when negotiating parties have very different undeclared agendas and are flexing muscles behind the scenes. “What a missed chance”, I heard many say – instead of constructively galvanising countries around a positive Resolution, we were engaged in a dispiriting battle of words and reformulation of text, to the bitter end.

IFE logo plain

So where did we get to? We secured an IYCF Resolution – definitely not perfect but one heaps better than that first offered by the US; and critically, one that does more good than harm. ENNs original objective for engagement - to bring attention to the protection of infants and children and their mothers in emergencies and to prepare for this - was successful.  The wording agreed in the Ecuadorian-led Resolution was included in the final agreed Resolution. I witnessed, first hand, the role of civil society in advocacy and support to government, and the power of collaboration, networking and connections.  A resilient global community stood firm and on balance, I feel won.

From here, the only way is up. This debacle is fuelling an uprising of support to protect, promote and support safe and appropriate infant and young feeding worldwide, including in the most fragile and crisis affected contexts where mothers and children need the greatest protection. Without it, breastfeeding would never have made the pages of the New York Times and Guardian.  Every cloud...

More like this

NEX: What's new at ENN?

Nutrition Exchange: Preliminary results from user survey ENN conducted an impact survey in late 2017 with the aim of understanding how our global network of practitioners and...

FEX: Artificial feeding in emergencies: experiences from the ongoing Syrian crisis

By Suzanne Mboya Suzanne Mboya is a consultant nutritionist. In 2014 she completed a sixth month mission supporting the Syrian crisis IYCF-E response through a partnership...

FEX: International Legal Consequences of the Conflict in Syria

By Natasha Harrington Natasha is a barrister (a member of the English Bar). She is currently working in Eversheds law firms' public international law and international...

FEX: The Code and the Operational Guidance

This mother had exclusively breastfed all her children, including this baby whom she breastfed throughout the war in Lebanon. The aim of the International Code of the...

FEX: ICN2 - from promises to action: ACF’s perspective

By Samuel Hauenstein Swan and Alex Wijeratna Samuel Hauenstein Swan is Senior Policy & Research Advisor at Action Against Hunger International, in charge of policy positioning...

FEX: Contributing to the Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) response in the Philippines: a local NGO perspective

By Romelei Camiling-Alfonso, Donna Isabel S. Capili, Katherine Ann V. Reyes, A.M. Francesca Tatad and Maria Asuncion Silvestre Romelei Camiling-Alfonso has worked for the...

en-net: Breastfeeding Tent Picture

I am currently working on a project to compile an advice leaflet for local charities with the aim of giving them the knowledge and understanding to better support...

Resource: Follow-up evaluation of 2008 regional workshop on IFE. 2009

This report was initiated by the ENN to determine the regional impact of the workshop entitled “Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies: Making it Happen1”...

About us

Who we are The Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) is a UK registered charity. It was set up to improve practice and strengthen the institutional memory of agencies involved in...

Resource: Background information for communications experts on infant & young child feeding in emergencies

This briefing note complements the brief guide, “How to Write and Talk About Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies.” It was prepared by the IFE Core Group,...

FEX: Violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes: Indonesia context

Research snapshot1 Information and promotional materials produced by breast-milk substitute (BMS) companies and the distribution of free samples of BMS have a well understood...

FEX: Regional IFE workshop in Bali

Summary of meeting1 One hundred and twelve participants from 16 countries and special territories, together with regional and international representatives of United Nations...

FEX: Infant and young child feeding support in Lebanon: strengthening the national system

By Pressila Darjani and Linda Shaker Berbari Pressila Derjany is the Infant and Young Child Coordinator at IOCC. She has a B.Sc. in Nutrition and Dietetics. She joined IOCC...

Born into this World: Breastfeeding and the Politics of Infant and Young Child Feeding

Read about the events of the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) around the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Resolution here.

FEX: From the editor

Group of women participating in a focus group discussion This is another bumper issue of Field Exchange, with eight field articles and just under 20 research summaries. On the...

FEX: Coordinating the response to the Syria Crisis: the southern Turkey cross border experience

This views piece was developed by the ENN based on eight key informant interviews with donors, UN agencies and INGOs carried out during an ENN visit to southern Turkey in early...

FEX: Transforming media coverage of nutrition in Kenya

By Titus Mung'ou At the time of writing, Titus Mung'ou was the Advocacy and Communications Manager at Action Against Hunger (ACF) and the outgoing Chair of Kenya's Scaling Up...

FEX: Increased diarrhoea following infant formula distribution in 2006 earthquake response in Indonesia: evidence and actions

By Fitsum Assefa, Sri Sukotjo (Ninik), Anna Winoto and David Hipgrave Fitsum Assefa is a nutritionist with over 15 years experience working on public nutrition in various...

en-net: Loi BMS 2013 du Bangladesh - Clarification demandée

The BMS Law 2013 states that “within the scope of sub-section (1), among others the following things particularly shall not be done, namely… to donate or...

FEX: Philippine Nutrition Cluster’s battle for the best: the breast

By Ms. Florinda Panlilio, Department of Health, Philippines Ms. Florinda Panlilio is a Nutritionist-Dietitian IV in the Department of Health -Health Emergency Management...