Series from The Lancet provides more evidence that breastfeeding is lifesaving – UNICEF

Reductions in child mortality and reduced breast and ovarian cancer rates for women who breastfeed

11 January 2016

A new series of papers just published by The Lancet in January 2016 provides evidence that improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of over 820,000 children a year, 9 out of 10 of them infants under 6 months.

Increased breastfeeding can prevent nearly half of diarrhoea episodes and a third of respiratory infections – the two leading causes of death among children under age 5.

The Lancet papers also show that each year a mother breastfeeds, her risk of developing invasive breast cancer is reduced by 6 per cent. Current breastfeeding rates already prevent almost 20,000 deaths from breast cancer each year, a number which could be doubled with improved breastfeeding practices. Longer breastfeeding is also linked to a reduction in ovarian cancer.

“Investing in breastfeeding has a significant impact on the health of women and children and on the economies of both rich and poor countries,” said UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Werner Schultink. “The Series provides crucial evidence for the case that breastfeeding is a cornerstone of children’s survival, health, growth and development and contributes to a more prosperous and sustainable future.”

The Lancet Series confirms the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding for women and children in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike, UNICEF said.

Breastfeeding lowers child mortality in high income countries. It is associated with a 36 per cent reduction in sudden infant deaths and an almost 60 per cent decline in the most common intestinal disease among premature infants. A child who breastfeeds for longer also has a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese later in life.

The Lancet Series found that cognitive losses associated with not breastfeeding, which impact earning potential, amount to $302 billion annually. Low- and middle- income countries lose more than $70 billion annually, while high income countries lose more than $230 billion annually due to low rates of breastfeeding.

UNICEF said the multiple advantages in terms of health for mothers and children, as well as potential economic gains, should impel governments to institute policies and programmes to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

This is especially important for working mothers. While early return to work tends to lessen the chances that a mother will breastfeed, in roughly 60 per cent of countries, maternity leave does not reach the ILO recommended minimum of 14 weeks paid leave. When breastfeeding mothers do return to work, their places of employment lack facilities for them to breastfeed or express milk.

UNICEF’s Schultink reiterated The Lancet’s conclusion that improving breastfeeding rates is a fundamental driver in achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those related to health, child survival and education

“Breastfeeding is the most natural, cost effective, environmentally sound and readily available way we know to provide all children, rich or poor, with the healthiest start in life,” he said. “It’s a win-win for all concerned to make it a priority.”

In Albania, according to UNICEF supported surveys, only 39 per cent of children 0-6 months are exclusively breastfeed, around 30 per cent of child deaths could be attributed to malnutrition, and 18 per cent to suboptimal Breastfeeding only. In addition, suboptimal BF can cause an economic loss of 4.8 million USD per year.

UNICEF in Albania has been a longstanding partner of the Ministry of Health in the area of support, protection and promotion of breastfeeding through supporting the expansion of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), including a strengthened community component through baby friendly community initiative, and development of a legislative basis for protection and promotion of breastfeeding.

UNICEF welcomes the recent decision of the Council of Ministers on measures to ensure health and safety of pregnant women and mothers with young children, by establishing protected nursing breaks for mothers with children under one year.

UNICEF congratulates the Albanian Ministry of Health and the State Health Inspectorate for the actions taken to strengthen the scope of the Albanian law for protection and promotion of breastfeeding and for strengthening enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.

Media contacts

Anila Miria
Communication Officer
Tel: +35569 20 29 021
Tel: +35569 20 24 185


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