Increasing Breastfeeding Could Prevent 800,000 Child Deaths Annually

A large-scale analysis finds that increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent 800,000 child deaths and 20,000 breast cancer deaths each year.

The largest, most detailed analysis of breastfeeding outcomes calls for urgent action. “Powerful political commitment and financial investment is needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding at all levels — family, community, workplace, and government.”

The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and published by The Lancet, estimates that:

…increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels for infants and young children could save over 800,000 children’s lives a year worldwide, equivalent to 13% of all deaths in children under two, and prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.

While rates of breastfeeding are low across the globe, this is particularly, and surprisingly, true in high income countries. The benefits of breast feeding have historically been correlated to poor countries where nourishing food is more likely to be in short supply.

According to the study’s author, Professor Cedar Victoria,

Nothing could be further from the truth. 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.

The comprehensive analysis revealed that in addition to having multiple health benefits, breastfeeding also effects life expectancy.

For high income countries this could mean a nearly 33% reduction in sudden infant death syndrome. In low income countries, breastfeeding help prevents life-threatening dehydrating diarrhea episodes and respiratory infections.

Other benefits of breastfeeding include increased intelligence and protection against obesity and diabetes in later life. Mothers who breastfeed for longer periods reduce their risk of ovarian and breast cancers.

Of course, mamas everywhere know how tough this topic is. Whether or not women breastfeed, and for how long, is influenced by a quagmire of overwhelming factors.

Among the top five issues cited by women working outside the home is the balance of career and children. A balance made nearly impossible in countries like the U.S. where paid maternity leave is a rare job benefit, health and childcare costs are through the roof, and breastfeeding or pumping are relegated to bathrooms and closets.

Additionally, producers of breastmilk replacements quite literally profit from undermining the benefits of breastmilk. Formula sales in high-income countries are expected to grow by 15% in the next few years, and it will be a whopping 70 billion dollar industry by 2019.

A Vermont-based company (and friend of Parent Co), Mamava, is helping facilitate breastfeeding in public spaces like airports and stadiums. Their “breastfeeding modular suites offer nursing mothers a safe, clean, and beautifully designed space to pump/nurse when they are away from home or at work.”

Parents can download Mamava’s locator app — and even rate and review their favorite suites and locations.

If you have breast or bottle feeding stories to share, Parent Co. would love to hear from you.

Source: Science Daily, The Atlantic, The Lancet, Mamava