Ecuadorian officials planned to introduce a resolution to the UN’s World Health Organization to promote breastfeeding for new parents this spring, but US officials reportedly employed heavy-handed measures to prevent them from doing so.
The resolution was designed to promote breastfeeding as the healthiest option for new parents and their babies. According to the New York Times, which cited a number of off-the-record delegates, the US delegation specifically pushed back on two pieces of the resolution, asking to remove wording that called for member nations to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding,” as well as a second passage that directed lawmakers to restrict advertising and promotion of food products aimed at infants and small children.
According to the Times, when the US delegation’s initial request was denied, delegates threatened to impose heavy sanctions against Ecuador, including pulling much-needed military support, if the country didn’t drop the resolution. The US reportedly also threatened to pull its contributions to the World Health Organization, which amount to 15 percent of the body’s operating budget.
The World Health Organization focuses on global health and wellness issues, with an aim to lower overall medical costs by using preventative measures based on evidence-based research. A study in 2010 showed a direct correlation between early infant breastfeeding and lower lifetime health care costs.
In a statement to CNN, US Health and Human Services representative Caitlin Oakley said the department is not anti-breastfeeding, but that the US delegation was aiming to protect women’s rights to make the best individual choices for their families.
“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,” Oakley said. “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.”
The resolution was eventually adopted thanks to the Russian delegation stepping in to present it to the meeting, at which point the US stepped back from their demands, the Times reported. The final text of the resolution was close to the original draft, although tweaks were made to the section about stopping the “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”
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