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Setting aside spaces for breastfeeding mothers throughout China

Watch an animated short about finding ten square metres of space to support nursing mothers, part of the effort to boost breastfeeding rates in China.  Watch in RealPlayer


By UNICEF China, with Ying Shi

Breastfeeding is the world’s most effective and least costly life-saver. It plays a critical role in reducing child mortality, protecting against infectious diseases and preventing stunting, a form of chronic malnutrition that affects 165 million children globally. Along with providing many health benefits to the child, breastfeeding also aids in the mother’s recovery and has been shown to reduce post-partum depression and to lower the risk of ovarian and breast cancers later in life.

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 takes place 1–7 August and this year focuses on support for mothers, because more mothers breastfeed when they receive support, counselling and education in health centres and in their communities.

A programme in China featuring actress and UNICEF Special Advocate for Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Development Ma Yili sets aside space in public buildings and shops for breastfeeding mothers. “With this extra 10m2, I won’t have to hide in a car to breastfeed anymore,” says UNICEF microblog follower Kangene.

FUJIAN PROVINCE, China, 31 July 2013 – The sight of a mother breastfeeding her child is a rare one in China. Xiaoyu Su, from Fujian province, had to fight her family and friends to breastfeed her newborn for the first six months. “Friends and family spared no effort in persuading me to give my daughter other food,” said Ms. Su. “If you don’t hold your beliefs strongly, it’s very easy to be influenced by others and give up breastfeeding.”

The issue is steeped in controversy, and the argument against the practice wrapped in layers of traditional beliefs and misconceptions. Add some very aggressive marketing of infant formula – China has emerged as one of the leading players in this market – and the lack of public facilities to accommodate breastfeeding mothers, and you have a country with a very small proportion of mothers who understand the advantages of breastfeeding.  Despite broad consensus on the health benefits of breastfeeding among health authorities in China, the exclusive breastfeeding rate for children under 6 months old in China is only around 28 per cent.

Watch the animated short Breastfeeding. It's natural, premiered at the launch of the new breastfeeding campaign.



In an effort to boost declining breastfeeding rates in China, UNICEF and the National Centre for Women and Children’s Health, Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (NCWCH), jointly launched the 10m2of Love campaign on 30 May.

The innovative campaign aims to locate, register, certify and publicize breastfeeding rooms in public buildings and stores, for both employees and patrons. 

“Breastmilk is the most suitable food for babies, containing all nutrients needed. Breastfeeding is crucial for a child’s future development,” says Deputy Director-General of NCWCH Jin Xi.

“Breastmilk is nature’s true super food for babies. No artificial substitute compares,” says Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF China Representative. “Yet, it is harder than ever to find time or space to give babies all the benefits associated with exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Many things need to be done, but we decided to start by supporting mothers trying to continue breastfeeding after their return to work.”

Popular Chinese actress Ma Yili, recently appointed UNICEF Special Advocate for Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Development, kicked off the 10m2of Love campaign. She actively shares her own breastfeeding experience with over 50 million followers on Sina and Tencent Weibo (microblogging platforms). “As a mother myself, I know how important breastfeeding is,” says Ma Yili. “Yet, overall, the environment around breastfeeding mothers is not very supportive. We will keep repeating the message and supporting would-be mothers and breastfeeding mothers.”

Spreading the word

The main launch was the ceremonial first registration of breastfeeding rooms in public institutions and private enterprises. NCWCH and the All China Women’s Federation registered their first 10m2of Love rooms. Baidu Corporation, IKEA and H&M are among partners in the private sector. The animated short Breastfeeding. It’s natural premiered.

© UNICEF China/2013
A temporary 10m2of Love space was set up at the campaign’s launching event, showcasing an example of the breastfeeding space.

Multimedia in support of China’s efforts to increase breastfeeding rates – infographics, posters, flyers and short films, including Breastfeeding. It’s natural – are being distributed through various channels. Through UNICEF China’s digital campaigns, netizens can learn about the benefits of breast milk, exchange tips with other breastfeeding mothers and become an advocate for breastfeeding in their own community.

Since its launch, the hashtag #10m2of Love on Sina Weibo has generated more than 220,000 discussions, with followers enthusiastically posting photos of breastfeeding rooms that they find in public places, and companies proudly endorsing their support for breastfeeding employees.

Long-term plans

In a bid to help more families sustain exclusive breastfeeding and to support breastfeeding mothers who return to work, a long-term national movement to speed the establishment of 10m2of Love breastfeeding rooms is being promoted by UNICEF and NCWCH.

The campaign has also established a web portal on which any organization can register breastfeeding rooms that adhere to a set of simple international standards, for staff or customers. A mobile phone application, now under development, will map the locations of all 10m2of Love facilities in China. The app will be launched later this year.



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