New York Times Columnist, ‘Win-A-Trip’ Student Reflect On Breastfeeding In Mali

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is in Mali for his annual win-a-trip journey, during which he travels with a university student to report on global poverty issues. The following is a summary of an opinion piece from Kristof and an “On the Ground” blog post from Erin Luhmann, this year’s winner, on their experience in a nomadic settlement just outside the city of Mopti, Mali, where they witnessed the treatment of a malnourished infant.

  • Nicholas Kristof: “Can you name a miracle food that is universally available, free and can save children’s lives and maybe even make them smarter?” Kristoff asks, and writes, “There really is such a substance, now routinely squandered, that global health experts believe could save more than 800,000 lives annually” — breast milk. “The latest nutritional survey from The Lancet estimates that suboptimal breastfeeding claims the lives of 804,000 children annually,” he notes, adding, “In some parts of the world, a problem has been predatory marketing by formula manufacturers, but, in the poorest countries, the main concern is that moms delay breastfeeding for a day or two after birth and then give babies water or food in the first six months.” He concludes, “[M]aybe in our sophistication we’ve overlooked a way to ease childhood malnutrition that is sustainable, scalable, free — and so straightforward that all hungry newborns cry for it” (7/10).
  • Erin Luhmann: “It seems counterintuitive that a mother would not be able to properly breastfeed her newborn. Yet this is a challenge that women continue to face in many parts of the world — including the United States,” Luhmann writes, and describes her experience of witnessing the treatment of a malnourished infant “[b]y simply correcting the way [the mother] held her baby to her breast.” She continues, “But I wonder if mental health issues like postpartum depression might also be playing a role in cases like this. Mental health may not top donor agendas, but it seems to me that the compounding stress of malnutrition and poverty could take a hidden toll on young mothers” (7/10).