It's official - breastfeeding has reached emoji-status.
As one of the 30 most frequently requested missing emojis, the Unicode Consortium approved the first ever breastfeeding emoji at a meeting last week. While it won't be officially launched and available until next summer at the earliest, here is a sneak-preview of the new emoji:
The emoji was submitted to the Consortium by Rachel Lee, a nurse at the University College of London Hospital, and her proposal clearly highlights the glaring gap in the current emoji menu:
"The lack of a breastfeeding emoji represents a gap in the Unicode Standard given the prevalence of breastfeeding in cultures around the world, and throughout history...There is [currently] no emoji which represents the concept of breastfeeding either literally or figuratively. The closest emoji - Baby Bottle - is ineffective as a replacement, due to the global push for breastfeeding where possible."
And make no mistake, the 'global push' for breastfeeding is coming from well-informed and credible sources. The World Health Organisation, for instance, makes its official stance very clear in its Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, which states:
"Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production."
UNICEF too, are continually pledging their support to the drive to normalize breastfeeding. From their widespread campaign statements earlier this year, advising that all newborns should be breastfed within an hour of birth, to their current position on this new emoji.
Dr. France Begin, UNICEF's Senior Advisor for Infant and Young Child Nutrition, has labelled the approval of this emoji as a noteworthy move to normalize breastfeeding, which has the potential to increase breastfeeding rates globally:
“We appreciate the inclusion of a breastfeeding emoji as a way to further normalize breastfeeding. Millions of moms around the world stop breastfeeding before they want to because they don’t get the support they need, and this emoji is a small but meaningful step to address the challenges many mothers face. Breast milk is a baby’s first vaccine, providing antibodies that give babies everywhere a healthy boost, and has benefits for mothers, too. The more common this practice becomes, the more successful we’ll be in broadening support for mothers who choose to breastfeed.”
It's just an emoji, sure. But it will inevitably become the digital symbol that represents so many mothers' days and nights. And with the approval of this symbol, it's safe to say that a small, digitally-animated step towards normalizing breastfeeding has been taken.
Related article: Why UNICEF wants all Babies to Breastfeed within an Hour of Birth