By Jane Sutton-Redner
A reader and child sponsor, Kathy Kuhn, wrote to express her dismay at this photo in the article about child mortality, “Fighting for Their Lives,” in the Autumn issue.
“The second and third most common cause of infant mortality you have listed, pneumonia and diarrhea, are greatly reduced by exclusive breastfeeding,” wrote Kathy, an RN and lactation specialist. “Images of infants bottle-feeding promote the idea that bottle-feeding is the norm and reduce the odds that women will successfully breastfeed.”
This is a great point—and not what we intended. Aware of the exceptional benefits of breastfeeding, health workers in all World Vision programs promote breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for babies’ first six months, and continued breastfeeding for up to 24 months. The impact of breastfeeding on children’s health is remarkable—Kathy passed along a statistic from the World Health Organization estimating that if 90 percent of the world’s babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, it could reduce infant deaths by 1.3 million.
Until recently, the only reason not to encourage breastfeeding is when the mother is HIV-positive, since children can contract the virus via mothers’ milk. The woman in the photo, Mary Mwamba, had been counseled at a World Vision-supported clinic in Zambia for HIV-positive mothers. To help the moms prevent passing the virus to their infants, the clinic staff clearly outlined the mothers’ best options: exclusive breastfeeding with drugs to block the transmission of HIV or bottle-feeding with safe and sustainable substitutes. Mary chose a breastmilk substitute for her son, Webiser, who was 5 months old at the time.
This background should have been included in a caption, and I regret that it was not (the photo was chosen to illustrate the AIDS and HIV section of the article). To us, the image conveyed the concept of nurturing children. But it said something quite different to Kathy (and perhaps other readers—moms?). I’m grateful that she raised the question. We’ll run a note of clarification in our upcoming Winter magazine.