The World Health Organization, UNICEF and the American Academy of Pediatrics are all striving to increase breastfeeding rates, but a shocking new report in the New York Times suggests the United States government may not share that goal.
The New York Times reports that a resolution to encourage breastfeeding around the world was expected to pass quickly at the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly, but America was a surprise hold out.
"The intensity of the administration's opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.'s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding," the Times reports.
According to the New York Times, officials from the United States initially sought to remove "language that called on governments to 'protect, promote and support breast-feeding'" and wanted to remove a passage calling for the restriction of "the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children."
The report suggests the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers when they told representatives from Ecuador (the country that planned to introduce the resolution) to drop it or face "punishing trade measures" and the removal of military aid from America.
The New York Times reports more than 12 individuals from several countries confirmed this to the paper, but many of the sources requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the U.S.
Fear of retaliation was also what kept many countries (most poor nations in Africa and Latin America) from sponsoring the resolution when Ecuador dropped it. Eventually, Russia took on the task and was not threatened by U.S. officials, according to the Times.
An anonymous source from The Department of Health and Human Services, which led efforts to change the resolution, the Times (via email) that the original draft "placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children."
"We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so," the source continued.
Breastfeeding advocates are calling America's actions disappointing, pointing to the large body of evidence on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, calls the actions of the American delegation "tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on [the] best way to protect infant and young child health."