World Breastfeeding Week starts tomorrow. Hailed by UNICEF as nature’s “safety net,” exclusive breastfeeding is one of the most effective interventions for preventing child deaths.
Keep reading to learn ten important links between breastfeeding and the fight against extreme poverty.
1. Combating malnutrition
Under-nutrition is associated with 45% of child deaths. Thankfully, breast milk provides all the nutrients infants need. Breastfed babies don’t need any other food, or even water.
2. Levelling the playing field
Unless she is extremely malnourished, a mother provides sufficient breast milk for her child, meaning all infants, regardless of where they’re born, can get a strong start in life.
3. Fuelling smarter students
Breast milk is brain food! Children who were breastfed do better in school and score higher on intelligence tests.
4. Battling diseases in the short run…
Breast milk contains antibodies that help prevent diarrhoea, pneumonia and respiratory infections. 6.6 million children under the age of 5 die each year, mainly from preventable diseases like these.
5. …and the long run
Breastfed infants are also less likely to suffer from diseases later in life, including leukaemia, diabetes and high blood pressure.
6. Kicking off growth spurts
Over 25% of children under 5 in low-income countries have fallen behind in physical development. Breast milk is the best source of vitamins and minerals for infants, and can prevent stunting.
7. Helping to end paediatric AIDS
HIV-positive mothers can safely breastfeed! If a woman is on anti-retrovirals and breastfeeds exclusively, transmission levels are as low as 2%. That’s a far lower transmission rate than for babies who are fed a mix of breast milk and formula.
8. Pinching pennies
Breast milk is free! In countries where many people live on less than $1.25 a day, breastfeeding is far more affordable than artificial formulas.
9. Delivering food safely
High cost isn’t the only problem with artificial formulas in developing countries. Formula milk in these areas can be dangerous because infectious diseases are prevalent and access to clean water is poor, making breastfeeding a much safer option.
10. Protecting mothers
Breastfeeding doesn’t just boost the health of babies. Mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk for osteoporosis, uterine and ovarian cancer, and post-natal depression.
The UN estimates that breastfeeding interventions could save as many as 800,000 lives per year! But despite its powerful impact, only 39% of babies in the developing world are exclusively breastfed.