Increased Breastfeeding Could Save Over One Million Lives

Last week marked World Breastfeeding Week. Led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, this was the 25th annual celebration that encourages, advocates, and educates the world about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Though most people understand that breastfeeding is associated with improved health outcomes for individual babies, few understand how far-reaching nursing has the potential to be. In fact, the impact on overall health is so great that UNICEF estimates 1,300,000 lives could be saved each year if more women breastfed their babies.

This infographic from Mom Loves Best demonstrates exactly how important breastfeeding is to the overall health of infants, their mothers, and society as a whole.

Benefits to the Individual

Babies begin reaping benefits from breastfeeding right away. Produced by the mother and tailored to each baby’s individual need, breast milk contains the perfect custom blend of vitamins, fat, and protein. Breast milk also contains powerful antibodies which protect the baby from a number of afflictions. These include common ailments such as respiratory infections, diarrhea, constipation, and ear infection.

The antibodies also protect babies from more serious ailments like meningitis, salmonella poisoning, HIB, and pneumonia as well as chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergic reactions, Crohn’s disease, and Celiac disease. Breastfeeding is also associated with reduced incidents of mental health problems, delays in motor skills, poor communication abilities, and vision problems.

Benefits of breastfeeding even extend into adulthood with a reduced risk of Multiple Sclerosis, schizophrenia and other mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, and many different types of cancer. The breastfeeding mother can also enjoy personal health benefits including a lower risk of postpartum depression, improved bone mass in certain areas, and a decreased risk of ovarian and uterine cancer.

Benefits to Society at Large

The significant health benefits experienced by both breastfeeding mothers and breastfed babies can have a great impact on societal health outcomes if scaled up. The improved health of society’s members reduces its overall medical costs, lowers illness-related work absences, and improves work productivity.

Extended breastfeeding also offers a more natural form of birth and population control and results in better care of society’s children. Communities can enjoy reduced pollution due to the decreased use of commercially-made formula and its associated disposable containers.

While breastfeeding is widely understood to have health benefits for babies, few connect the surprising health outcomes to significant societal socioeconomic advantages. But when you look at the research, it’s clear that breastfeeding really does have the potential to have a miraculous effect on society’s overall welfare.

That’s why, as we look forward from World Breastfeeding Week, it’s important that we all work together for the common good.

Jenny is a mother of two, a writer and a breastfeeding advocate. You can find her trying to help new moms overcome common breastfeeding struggles on her blog, Mom Loves Best.

Real Women’s Experiences of Breastfeeding

To mark World Breastfeeding Week, led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, we asked women around the world to tell us a little bit about their experience of breastfeeding. We asked them about the partnerships they’d had that mattered most to them, as well as about the ones they wished they’d had but didn’t.

Did you have support in your choice to breastfeed?

“The biggest support came from my husband who made it possible for me to take the time required to breastfeed, especially in the first weeks. Before my child was born I also attended a breastfeeding course free of charge held by a civil society organisation with a teacher who was a former midwife. I also had the possibility to call the hospital with questions, which was very helpful.” – Rebecca, Sweden 

“My husband, mother, and family offered me support. But, only for the first 6 months. After that everybody asked me “when are you going to stop to breastfeeding?”” – Citlali, Mexico 

Photo credit: Julia Wiklander

What support do you wish you had during your breastfeeding journey?

“Breastfeeding classes and/or support groups, arranged by midwives.” – Tina, Denmark

“I really wish that I’d had more support from the health care system, and from the midwives I met during my pregnancy (the once I met in the postpartum period were great).” – Mia, Sweden

“I wish I’d had more time to stay with my baby so that I could breastfeed her every time she needed it.” – Kristen, Mexico

“It still feels like you have to defend why you are choosing to breastfeed for as ‘long’ as you are.” – Inge, Netherlands 

“I wish there had been lactation consultants at the hospital my baby was born in, and lactation consultants who could visit my home as leaving to go to the breastfeeding clinic during the very early days was overwhelming for me as a new mother.” – Jessica, Toronto 

What change do you want to see in your family/community/country when it comes to breastfeeding support for new mothers?

“I wish there could be more respect for the different decisions everyone makes and more information to sustain those decisions.” – Daniela, Mexico

Photo credit: Julia Wiklander

“More facts, more support, more tolerance of public breastfeeding.” – S, Finland 

“I would like the rhetoric around breastfeeding to change. Yes, breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not easy for new moms and babies. They need support in the very early days at the hospital with follow ups at home to address issues and reassure mom.” – Jessica, Toronto 

“Society needs to develop respect for mothers’ need and want to breastfeed. We need to improve public knowledge about breastfeeding.” – Citlali, Mexico

“I wish that there was more information and discussion regarding possible problems with breastfeeding, such as how painful it can be for the mother.” – Rebecca, Sweden

“Apart from every mother making their own choice in this, what I would like to see more of is having someone show a new mother how to breastfeed. Technique is so important to prevent pain and discomfort as well as to get a good latch and feed. Learning this early on, both mother and child, may help other mothers decide to keep going for a little longer. A lacatation specialist once told us moms-to-be how breastfeeding is a learned trait – this was such an eye opener! Even gorillas still learn from observing each other. So many people think it’s an instinctive know-how.” – Inge, Netherlands 

“Better support in terms of education classes on breastfeeding practises during gestation and follow-up support groups post-partum. Even a hot-line to call 24h during the first 6 months with a first child would be great!” – Tina, Denmark

“More time to pump breast milk while we’re in our office or at our jobs.” – Kristen, Mexico

“I hope that breastfeeding one day (soon!) will get the attention that it deserves. That it will be on top of agendas in terms of health and wellbeing for all. I wish that my children will learn about breastfeeding in school, and that it will become more normalized in our society.” – Mia, Sweden 

Photo credit: Inge Butter

Girls’ Globe is committed to ensuring that all mothers have the information, support and protection they need to breastfeed, if they choose to do so. Throughout the month of August, we will be sharing posts, videos and more in line with World Breastfeeding Week’s main objectives. Find more on our campaign page and follow on social media with #WBW2017!

World Breastfeeding Week 2017 – Sustaining Breastfeeding Together

“Breastfeeding for me was synonymous to giving life” – Felogene, mother, Kenya

Breastfeeding is a core part of many new mothers’ lives, and it is an experience that is different for everyone. Yet the benefits of breastfeeding are universal and the barriers to breastfeeding are many, persisting across cultures and communities around the world. Women need partners to make breastfeeding work – partnerships ranging from close family to the health workforce, to workplaces and the public sphere. Furthermore, multi-level partnerships are necessary to ensure that breastfeeding is a central component in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

In line with the Sustainable Development Agenda, World Breastfeeding Week, led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, covers four Thematic Areas, which are reviewed in detail in relation to essential partnerships and paired with key action points to help us all get engaged and working together to reach our common goals by 2030.

NUTRITION, FOOD SECURITY AND POVERTY REDUCTION

“In 2016, the United Nations placed nutrition at the heart of sustainable development by declaring 2016-2025 as the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. Breastfeeding is a non-negotiable component of this globally intensified action to end malnutrition.” – writes Mia Ydholm.

SURVIVAL, HEALTH AND WELLBEING

“Breastfeeding is a fundamental driver in achieving the SDGs as it plays a significant role in improving maternal and child health, survival and wellbeing. One year into the implementation of the SDGs, we must work together to level the playing field.” – Every Woman Every Child.

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE

“Like in so many other areas of our lives – especially as women – we are bombarded by marketing telling us how to look, how to behave and what life-changing decisions to make. Breastfeeding is not excluded from this. The detrimental environmental impact of breastmilk substitutes is a responsibility for all of us to bear – not mothers alone.” – writes Julia Wiklander.

WOMEN’S PRODUCTIVITY AND EMPLOYMENT

“Full equality will not be reached at home or in the workforce until men and boys globally take on 50 percent of the unpaid care and domestic work.” – MenCare

“The reason why I am breastfeeding is, first of all, because I can, and because there are so many benefits for my baby and for myself.” – Kristina, mother, Sweden

Girls’ Globe is committed to ensuring that all mothers have the information, support and protection they need to breastfeed, if they choose to do so. Throughout the month of August, we will be sharing posts, videos and more in line with World Breastfeeding Week’s main objectives. Find more on our campaign page and follow on social media with #WBW2017.

It Takes Team Work

The theme for the 2017 World Breastfeeding Week, “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”, says it all: breastfeeding is a joint effort, involving a variety of actors whose collaboration is required to give mother and baby optimal conditions and maximum chances for a successful breastfeeding journey.

While breastfeeding can be a very intimate experience for mothers and babies, it is not something that the mother alone should have to bear responsibility for. Ensuring that mothers have access to necessary information and support to make breastfeeding work is also crucial for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoting and supporting breastfeeding can be anything but simple though. Dr. Prashant Gangal from La Leche League International (LLLI) states that one of the greatest challenges LLLI faces in working with support groups at the community level is to help mothers, families and health personnel to recognize their role and importance in making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies.

Elien Rouw, Liaison for the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Alliance (WABA), notes that breastfeeding is in fact something that concerns the community as a whole: it involves the mother and baby, but also family, friends and neighbors, as well as health care workers in many variations and the legal system in society.

Legal frameworks and policies can either help or hinder the breastfeeding experience. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies through strengthening institutions and providing access to justice for all. Strong institutions, inclusive and participatory decision making and non-discriminatory laws and policies are essential building blocks of societies that promote and protect breastfeeding and enable mothers to achieve the kind of breastfeeding experience they strive for.

Despite this, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), breastfeeding mothers are often overlooked as a population requiring non-discriminatory laws and policies that enable them to succeed in breastfeeding their babies for 6 months exclusively, and for up to 2 years alongside solid foods, as recommended by the World Health Organization(WHO).

ICM also notes that by working in collaboration, health providers can move toward a common goal which helps to decrease conflict, and further encourages a woman and her new infant to be treated as a holistic dyad, rather than as two patients with competing health interests. ICM states too that health care providers who collaborate are more likely to present a unified message to women and families when discussing infant nutrition. Given that women often report being confused by the conflicting information they receive about breastfeeding from different health care providers, improving the consistency of this important messaging can help to break down cultural barriers, thereby improving breastfeeding success rates.

Making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies is a team effort, and we all have a role to play. Ensuring that mothers and babies can live and thrive healthily and happily is a goal we should all be striving towards, and we will reach that goal much faster when we join our hands and work together – as partners.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy.