Breastfeeding: where healthy and sustainable food systems begin

Woman breastfeeding small infant shuttestock

This event is being co-hosted by the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions; ANU Gender Institute; BPNI/IBFAN South Asia; Australian Breastfeeding Association; WBTI Australia; Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.

Today’s food systems are contributing to several intersecting health and ecological crises of global concern. Recognising this, many are now calling for transformative, and some even say radical, food systems change. The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) seeks to ‘transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food’. However, many scientists and civil society networks are questioning what this will mean in reality, and where the mother-child breastfeeding dyad, breastmilk, and human rights will fit within the food systems transformation agenda. 

This Dialogue will show how and why breastfeeding – as the desirable norm for feeding human infants and children – is where healthy and sustainable food systems really begin and the challenges that must be addressed for this to be the universal social norm.

Amongst a host of current challenges; acknowledging the fact that women’s role in achieving optimal breastfeeding is essential yet billions of women are unable and available to breastfeed due to the lack of social protection like maternity entitlements and childcare services in workplaces, these will be a cross-cutting focus on the social support needed by women. 

The objectives are to:

  1. Bring together advocates, specialists and policy-makers for food systems, food security and nutrition, human rights, and environment, as well as members of women’s and community support groups, to share transformative ideas and positions on breastfeeding as foundational to sustainable food systems thinking and action, with the right to breastfeed as a guiding principle and in doing so, identifies the most powerful levers for generating systems-wide change.
  2. Increase awareness and understanding of the pivotal role of breastfeeding as the most sustainable, localised and normative food system for delivering food security and nutrition to infants and young children, and one that is potentially universally available and accessible optimises nutrition and health outcomes, supports resilience during crisis through local and diverse supply chains and gives agency to mothers and children.
  3. Build alliances and discuss the importance of aligning actions to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across the five Action Tracks of the UNFSS, considering a) the strengths, opportunities, risks and challenges of framing breastfeeding in terms of food systems, and b) identifying strategies to ensure breastfeeding, breastmilk and human rights, are integral to future food systems thinking, research and action.

The first challenge is to acknowledge the importance of acknowledging breastfeeding as a first food system, and the urgent need to invest societal resources in enabling women to practice it. A second key challenge is to address the pervasive influence of corporations in undermining breastfeeding at multiple levels in families, in communities, in health systems and in societies. A further key challenge is to address the gender inequities and discrimination against women workers that arise from lack of adequate maternity protection and social services to underpin women’s invisible and unrequited care work, including breastfeeding.

International experts in human rights and breastfeeding, corporate political activity, food systems and food marketing and the political economy of breastfeeding will provide informed commentary on the need to protect and support women and their children and their right to breastfeeding and to ensure that the work of breastfeeding is acknowledged and resourced as the foundational food system.


Julie Smith, Chair of Dialogue, Honorary Associate Professor, Research School of Population Health, ANU, and Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, ANU Crawford School of Public Policy

Penny Van Esterik, Professor Emerita, York University, Toronto and Adjunct Professor, University of Guelph

Phillip Baker, Co-chair of the event and Research Fellow, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), Deakin University

Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI)

Vandana Prasad, Technical Advisor – Public Health Resource Society (PHRS), New Delhi


Register here


Contact the organisers:

Alessandro Iellamo:

Dr Julie Smith: 



Photo: Shutterstock

Updated:  15 September 2021/Responsible Officer:  College of Science/Page Contact: