The First-Food System: The Importance of Breastfeeding in Global Food Systems Discussions

Aug 04 2021

The conceptualization of food systems should take into account breastfeeding and breastmilk because of the critical role the first-food plays in proper nutrition, argues a new brief by Alive & Thrive, FHI Solutions, and Save the Children. The brief was shared with stakeholders participating in a series  of Health Talks in June organized by WHO/UNICEF in support of the first UN Food Systems Summit taking place in September.

“The food systems framework developed in 2017 by a high-level panel of experts (HLPE) articulates the relationship between food supply chains, the food environment, consumer behaviors, diets, and, ultimately, nutrition and health outcomes,” explained Lesley Oot, Alive & Thrive, associate director of programs. “But it left out a critical element: breastfeeding and breastmilk. Stakeholders meeting to prepare for the summit need to address that issue.”

The food systems framework developed in 2017 by a high-level panel of experts did not include the "first food" system - breastmilk and breastfeeding. The key gaps are indicated in this graphic.

The new brief presents the framework and identifies points in the framework where breastfeeding can and should be included.

“A revised framework  and discussion around improving the food system should specifically include reference to the first food – breastmilk – and the direct impact of the commercial milk formula industry and other social, cultural, political, and economic drivers of breastfeeding,” Oot explained.

The Food Systems Summit, which will take place during the UN General Assembly in September, presents a golden opportunity for stakeholders to ensure that breastmilk and breastfeeding are understood as critical to the health and nutrition outcomes envisioned by the HLPE framework. 

By recognizing the contributions of the practice of breastfeeding to social and economic development and the negative impacts of the use of breastmilk substitutes, stakeholders can identify actions to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding that will help the Food Systems Summit achieve its objectives related to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

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