|Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 17, Number 4, 1996 (UNU, 1996, 163 pages)|
At the Solemn Audience granted to the Working Group participants on 12 May 1995, His Excellency Msgr. James T. McHugh, Bishop of Camden, NJ, USA, delivered the following address:
Most Holy Father,
I am pleased to present to you the participants in the Working Group on "Breastfeeding: Science and Society." The meeting of this Working Group is co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society of London. The persons taking part in this meeting are physicians and scientists who are engaged in scientific research and who have accumulated much important data on the advantages of breastfeeding for both mother and child.
There is considerable evidence that breastfeeding provides proper nutrition for children and also protects the child against life-threatening infections in the earliest years of life. The mother also benefits by knowing that she is providing good nourishment and research shows that breastfeeding is associated with a reduction in the risk of breast cancer. The return of ovulation is inhibited in the fully breastfeeding woman, at least during the first six months after birth, thereby providing important health benefits to the family because of improved birth spacing.
We are now coming to a better understanding of the nutritional components of human milk and of the receptivity and response on the part of the child. The efforts of our participants are directed towards enabling women to initiate and sustain breastfeeding and enabling infants to benefit fully. The research papers and the discussions within our Working Group are a valuable contribution.
Unfortunately there are many factors that discourage or inhibit women from this important practice. In developed countries the rapid pace of life and time demands on women are obstacles. Absence of stable family life and familial support affects many women. Employment patterns, the work environment, and the absence of sufficient maternal leave time create difficulties.
In developing countries where breastfeeding has been a more common practice, urbanization, work outside the home, and other aspects of modernization tend to diminish the practice of breastfeeding. It is important to protect and strengthen the cultural support for breastfeeding practices within the family.
Our Working Group has also recognized that although breastfeeding primarily involves mother and child, there is also an important role for fathers. Every element of child care is a mutual responsibility and commitment of both parents. The father should be particularly sensitive to the physical demands placed on the mother and assist her in obtaining proper nutrition and rest. The father should give approval and encouragement to help the mother sustain the practice. Every woman should be supported in every aspect of her motherhood, by her family and by society.
Our Working Group is pleased with this opportunity to present and review the important research data. We are grateful to be able to meet with you, Holy Father, and we ask your blessing and your prayers.