Happy World Breastfeeding Week (8/1-8/7)! This year’s theme, “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding” is a particularly poignant reminder of how the U.S. government is doing neither for parents and infants entering at the southern border. It is critical to consider the effects of involuntary separation of breastfeeding mothers and their children.
There are short- and long-term physical, emotional, and economic consequences of abrupt discontinuation of lactation. Lactating individuals need to express milk to relieve the pain and fullness in their breasts to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis, a breast infection requiring medical attention. If there is no provision of time, space, and privacy for regularly expressing milk, those individuals will gradually lose their milk supply. Shortened, suboptimal lactation increases risks for breast and ovarian cancers, and metabolic and other diseases and costs $302 billion globally .
Infants who no longer receive human milk need a substitute, which will be inherently nutritionally inferior to human milk and cannot provide them the immunologic protection they received from their mothers’ milk . Those infants will need to learn how to feed from a bottle, which may cause distress, can introduce bacteria, and may teach them to ignore satiety cues , increasing their risk for overeating as they get older.
Emotionally, the parent–infant bond is severed with involuntary separation. Breastfeeding is not just a feeding method, but also provides an infant with temperature regulation and comfort. We have witnessed maternal distress from this inhumane practice ; it is likely that an infant’s distress would be extreme.
On top of the life changing health effects of abrupt discontinuation of breastfeeding, the most egregious offense may be the negation of these individuals’ rights to breastfeed. They were feeding their children optimally until a poor substitute was imposed upon them for political reasons. Now those children have higher risks of infections and chronic disease, from the moment they were taken from their parents and for the rest of their lives.
There have been many discussions about the traumatic effects of parent-child separation but we have not seen or heard a discussion of effects due to abrupt cessation of lactation and breastfeeding. Those effects provide more compelling reasons to end this inhumane practice immediately.
Guest Blog Written By: Jennifer Yourkavitch, MPH, PhD, IBCLC – International Health Section Breastfeeding Forum Liaison, APHA and Research Scientist, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; Whitney P. Witt, PhD, MPH – Chair, Maternal and Child Health Section, APHA and Inaugural Dean and Professor, College of Health, Lehigh University; Briana Jegier, PhD – Chair, Breastfeeding Forum, APHA and Associate Professor, Health Services Administration, D’Youville College
1. Lancet. (2016). Series on Breastfeeding. http://thelancet.com/series/breastfeeding. Accessed July 31, 2018.
2. Mannel R., Martens P., & Walker M. (eds.). Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC, 2013.
3. Li R., Fein S.B. & Grummer-Strawn LM. (2010). Do infants fed from bottles lack self-regulation of milk intake compared with directly breastfed infants? Pediatrics125(6).
4. CNN. June 14, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/12/us/immigration-separated-children-southern-border/index.html. Accessed July 29, 2018.