- January 29, 2016
- The Lancet
- Just 1 in 5 children in high-income countries are breastfed to 12 months, whilst only 1 in 3 children in low and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. As a result, millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits provided by breastfeeding. The findings come from the largest and most detailed analysis to quantify levels, trends, and benefits of breastfeeding around the world.
- Then why are women still not getting the message?
- Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for children and mothers regardless of where they live, it has been overlooked as a critical need for the health of the population.
"There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth," says Series author Professor Cesar Victora from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. "Our work for this Series clearly shows that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever."
Breastfeeding not only has multiple health benefits for children and mothers, but it also has dramatic effects on life expectancy. For example, in high-income countries breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than a third, while in low-and middle-income countries about half of all diarrhoea episodes and a third of respiratory infections could be avoided by breastfeeding. It also increases intelligence, and might protect against obesity and diabetes in later life. For mothers, longer-duration breastfeeding reduces the risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Furthermore, the authors calculate that boosting breastfeeding rates for infants below 6 months of age to 45% in the UK would cut treatment costs of common childhood illnesses (eg, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and asthma) and save health care systems at least 29.5 million in the UK.
Yet, worldwide rates of breastfeeding are low, particularly in high-income countries. For example, the UK (<1%), Ireland (2%), and Denmark (3%) have some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding at 12 months in the world. "Breastfeeding is one of the few positive health behaviours that is more common in poor than richer countries, and within poor countries, is more frequent among poor mothers. The stark reality is that in the absence of breastfeeding, the rich-poor gap in child survival would be even wider. Our findings should reassure policymakers that a rapid return on investment is realistic and feasible, and won't need a generation to be realised."
Persistent underinvestment in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding by governments and international funders has exacerbated the issue. Social media do not portray breastfeeding women in a positive light. It was banned on FB to show a BF woman as you could see some of her breast! OMG.
Powerful political commitment and financial investment is needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding at all levels -- family, community, workplace, and government, say the authors. Additionally, more needs to be done to regulate the multi-billion dollar breastmilk-substitute industry which undermines breastfeeding as the best feeding practice in early life. The authors point out that the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes could be an effective mechanism if adequate investment is made to ensure its implementation and accountability across all countries.
Global sales of milk formula (including infant formula and follow-on milks) have increased from a value of about US$2 billion in 1987 to about US$40 billion in 2014...Political commitment, investment, and effective international, national, and local leadership are needed to end promotion of products that compete with breastfeeding."
Ask your Community Midwife for help and advice about breastfeeding your baby before you decide. There is lots of help and support out there when you have had your baby, just ask.