We're not anti-breastfeeding, says The Department of Health and Human Services in response to the NYT report
HHS national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley tells Motherly, "Recent reporting attempts to portray the U.S. position at the recent World Health Assembly as 'anti-breastfeeding' are patently false."
So often, if the word "breastfeeding" is in a news headline the story that follows is about another study adding to the mountain of evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding, or a public health campaign to encourage breastfeeding.
That's what made a recent report from the New York Times so shocking. According to the Times, health officials were shocked when representatives for the United States government opposed a World Health Assembly resolution to encourage breastfeeding around the world.
The report, published Sunday, suggested American officials were acting in the interests of baby formula companies and threatened other nations with "punishing trade sanctions" during negotiations.
The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to Motherly that it was the lead agency in negotiations on this resolution, but denies that threats regarding trade sanctions were made.
Via email, HHS national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley tells Motherly, "Recent reporting attempts to portray the U.S. position at the recent World Health Assembly as 'anti-breastfeeding' are patently false."
Oakley continues: "The United States has a long history of supporting mothers and breastfeeding around the world and is the largest bilateral donor of such foreign assistance programs. The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding. The United States was fighting to protect women's abilities to make the best choices for the nutrition of their babies. Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies."
According to the HHS, "the U.S. shares a common objective with other countries to promote breastfeeding as well as adequate and timely complementary feeding. We also believe in ensuring breast-milk substitutes are properly used, when necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution."
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and a spokesperson for the organization, Tarik Jašarević, says that globally, only about 40% of babies under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. "If all infants under the age of 6 months were exclusively breastfed, we estimate that about 820,000 child lives would be saved every year," Jašarević tells Motherly via email.
When asked about the alleged behavior of U.S. officials reported in the New York Times, Jašarević explains, "We are not in a position to comment on exchanges between different delegations."
The WHO may not be commenting on what happened at the Assembly, but breastfeeding advocates and mothers are commenting plenty on the New York Times report, and there will likely be plenty more headlines about breastfeeding in the coming days.