U.S. Objects to Breastfeeding Resolution With Scientific Consensus, until Russia Supports It

The Trump administration shocked global health officials when it pushed back on decades of scientific research that recognized breast milk as the healthiest option for babies.

At the United Nations World Health Assembly this spring officials from the United States held up a resolution designed to promote breastfeeding by attempting to remove specific language according to The New York Times.

U.S. officials sought to remove language that called on governments to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding" as well as a separate section that called for governments to restrict the promotion of products that experts agree could cause harm to children.

According to the Times, U.S. officials threatened harmful trade practices against Ecuador, which planned to introduce the initiative, unless it withdrew it. "We were astonished, appalled and also saddened," Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action told the Times of the U.S. actions. "What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health."

An Ecuadorian official added, "We were shocked because we didn't understand how such a small matter like breastfeeding could provoke such a dramatic response."

U.S. opposition to the resolution ended, however, when Russia introduced the measure. Officials from the U.S. did not challenge Russia despite threatening Ecuador for introducing the same measure. "We feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries," a Russian delegate told the Times of Russia's decision to introduce the resolution.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency involved in modifying the resolution, told theTimes the agency wasn't involved in threats to other countries.

A bottle with breastmilk from a donor breastmilk bank of the Scientific Centre of Children's Health. Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

"The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children," the spokesperson said. "We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so."

Caitlin Oakley, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, told Newsweek in an emailed statement, "Recent reporting attempts to portray the U.S. position at the recent World Health Assembly as 'anti-breastfeeding' are patently false. 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," the statement 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."

A 2016 study by The Lancet found that breastfeeding could save 80,000 child deaths a year across the globe.

Trump administration officials have a history of breaking with scientific consensus on the world stage. In June 2017, Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which weakened global efforts to combat climate change.

"At what point does America get Demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?" Trump said of his decision to withdraw from the agreement. "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won't be."