June 21, 2018 – The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, an international physician’s organization, condemns policies that result in the separation of parents from their children.
As the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has established, “Children have the right to life, survival and development and to the highest attainable standard of health, of which breastfeeding must be considered an integral component.” Mothers similarly have the right to nurture their children: “Restriction of women’s autonomy in making decisions about their own lives leads to violation of women’s rights to health and, infringes women’s dignity and bodily integrity.”
“Separating children from their parents results in toxic stress that impacts breastfeeding and health for a lifetime,” said Timothy Tobolic MD, President of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. “Furthermore, separating a mother from her breastfeeding child violates the human rights of both mother and child.”
Separation of the breastfeeding mother-baby pair further confers risk of acute illness for mother and child. Breastfeeding women who are separated from their infants and unable to drain their breasts will become engorged and are at risk for mastitis and breast abscesses. Unrelieved engorgement will precipitate involution and loss of milk supply.
Infants who are not breastfed face increased risks of ear infections, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Separation of any infant from their mother also has untold emotional harms on those children. These risks are magnified if they are housed in facilities where proper preparation of formula or washing bottles and teats is not available.
Indeed, in emergency settings, such as refugee camps for migrant populations fleeing oppression, the first principal of the 2017 Operational Guidance for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies is the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding. Separating a mother from her breastfed child violates this first principal.
ABM recommends reuniting infants and children with there parents without delay. When mother and child are reunited, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and IYCFE guidelines recommend individual-level assessment by a qualified health or nutrition professional trained in breastfeeding and infant feeding issues. The mother-child pair will need sustained support to reestablish lactation, with access to an appropriate breast milk substitute until the mother’s milk supply is reestablished or until at least six months of age and beyond.
“We agree with President Trump’s executive order to stop the separation of infants and children from their parents.” said Dr. Tobolic. “Families belong together and breastfeeding must be supported for the health of the children.”