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"Oppai City Declaration" by Hikari City where the Japanese Society for Breastfeeding Research stresses the Importance of Emotional Support for Mothers

The 25th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society for Breastfeeding Research was held in Hikari City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a quiet town with a population of about 50,000, on the beautiful Seto Inland Sea.


The president of the society is Dr. Kaoru Umeda, who operates a large hospital in Hikari City specializing in obstetrics.


Dr. Umeda has been very influential in the local community in promoting breastfeeding education. Fifteen years ago, with the support of city residents, he succeeded in having the local government pass the "Oppai City Declaration" on July 3, 1995 and again after the city merged with Yamato City in 2004. (In Japanese, oppai is the everyday word used for breast and conveys the importance placed on breastfeeding and the bond between mother and child.)


Moreover, on the first Monday in August every year, the community celebrates the Oppai Festival. Bringing together all the residents, from adults to children, the festival is a day to celebrate acknowledging one another, holding babies and communicating. It is based on the idea that these are important ways for the community to promote human warmth and raise children to be warm and sensitive human beings. The festival also features the Baby Experience, an event which lets junior and senior high school students hold babies and play with them.


At the conference I was struck by how Dr. Dana Raphael's ideas on breastfeeding had become in Japan today. Since 1970's, Dr. Raphael, a medical anthropologist, has emphasized the importance of providing ongoing emotional support to mothers for successful breastfeeding and care of small children. Not only is this idea, of course, advocated by those in medicine, but it has even become understood by government policymakers and bureaucrats.


President Umeda talked about how his hospital created a place for breastfeeding mothers called Salon de Oppai, where he teaches the importance of breastfeeding to mothers on the third day after childbirth. Answering questions to the mothers is one of the keys how the program became successful by. Another successful program is Oppai Mura (Oppai Village) in Kyoto where Dr. Masayuki Shimaoka has set up a place for mothers and their babies to gather and talk to breastfeeding specialists.


Both Salon de Oppai and Oppai Mura are places where mothers can receive the type of emotional support advocated by Dr. Raphael. There, not only specialists, but the mothers themselves fulfill the doula role for one another by providing support in pregnancy, childbirth and child care.


Certainly, breast massage techniques for breastfeeding mothers are effective in relieving breast swelling and pain, but I believe the effect of communication between midwives and mothers, for example, is far greater. The importance lies in listening to mothers' problems with and complaints about childcare and gently answering their questions, which helps to ease their anxiety and overcome any stumbling blocks in child raising. When mothers are less stressed, hormone secretion for breast milk production increases and aids in the production of breast milk.


I think that many of the problems in today's society stem from weakening human bonds and the kindness, consideration and empathy that hold them together. The bond between the mother and child, which breastfeeding education promotes, is the basis for all other human relationships in life. Today, we need to recognize once again the importance of breastfeeding education. Our future depends on ensuring the education of the next generation.

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