Breastfeeding is the cheapest and most effective life-saver in history, UNICEF
ACCRA, Ghana, 6 August 2013 - DURING World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF is focusing on breastfeeding as the most effective and inexpensive way of saving a child’s life. But with less than half of all children under six months benefitting from exclusive breastfeeding, strong leadership in promoting the practice is essential.
“There is no other single health intervention that has such a high impact for babies and mothers as breastfeeding and which costs so little for governments,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. “Breastfeeding is a baby’s ‘first immunization’ and the most effective and inexpensive life-saver ever.”
Children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children. Starting breastfeeding in the first day after birth can reduce the risk of new-born death by up to 45 per cent.
Breastfeeding also supports a child’s ability to learn and helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Recent studies in the United States and United Kingdom point to large health care savings resulting from breastfeeding, given that breastfed children fall ill much less often than non-breastfed children.
Apart from the benefits to the baby, mothers who breastfeed exclusively are less likely to become pregnant in the first six months following delivery, recover faster from giving birth, and return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Evidence shows that they experience less post-partum depression and also have a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers later in life.
Despite these well documented benefits of breastfeeding worldwide, only 39 per cent of children aged less than six months were exclusively breastfed in 2012. This global figure has improved very little for the past several decades, due in part to large countries where the breastfeeding rate is low, and to the general lack of a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers.
Although breastfeeding is natural and may seem instinctive, it is essential to create an enabling environment for it to become the norm. Mothers benefit from the help of skilled health providers and community workers to support them to breastfeed, as well as culturally-sensitive communication, and protective laws and policies, particularly around the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and maternity leave.