Increase Breastfeeding to Prevent Child Deaths, Research Shows

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Yaneff_300116The general recommendation for breastfeeding is a minimum of 12 months and beyond as long there is a desire from the baby and mother, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The World Health Organization also recommends breastfeeding for at lest two years.

That being said, just one in five children are breastfed to 12 months in high-income countries. In low and middle-income countries, one in three children are breastfed for the first six months. These results were part of a new two-part analysis published in the journal The Lancet. It is considered the largest and most comprehensive analysis of breastfeeding benefits, trends, and levels around the world.

As a result, millions of children are not getting the benefits of breast milk. Breastfeeding benefits the baby’s brain development, eye health, hearing, heart health, lung health, intestinal health, bowel health, immune system, skin health, and reduces diabetes risk and leukemia. Breastfeeding also reduces breast cancer risk in mothers.

The two-part series study revealed that increasing breastfeeding for infants and young children could decrease the death rate in children under two by 13%. That would save more than 800,000 children’s lives every year. It would also prevent 20,000 breast cancer related deaths each year.

The study authors mentioned that breastfeeding is often overlooked as a preventative health measure for mothers and children in general.

“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” explained study author professor Cesar Victora. “Our work for this Series clearly shows that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tacking the issue globally is greater than ever.”

The analysis included 28 systematic reviews and meta-analyses—and 22 reviews were specifically used for the series. These studies indicated that breastfeeding not only has health benefits for mothers and children, it also increases life expectancy. For instance, breastfeeding decreases the risk of sudden infant death by over a third, half of diarrhea episodes, and a third of respiratory infections.

Not breastfeeding is also thought to impact the economy. For example, reduced cognitive function from not breastfeeding had reached $302 billion U.S. in 2012 around the world.

The study authors estimated that by increasing breastfeeding by 90% in infants under the age of six months in Brazil, China, and the U.S., and by 45% in the U.K. treatment costs of common childhood illnesses would drop by at least $2.45 billion in the U.S., $6 million in Brazil, 223.6 million in China, and $29.5 million in the U.K.

“The stark reality is that in the absence of breastfeeding, the rich-poor gap in child survival would be even wider,” Victora explained. “Our findings should reassure policymakers that a rapid return on investment is realistic and feasible, and won’t need a generation to be realized.”

There is a common misconception that breastfeeding can be replaced with artificial breast-milk substitutes, which in some cases can cause harm to both mother and child. The current study series leaves no doubt that the lack of breastfeeding has detrimental long-term effects on the nutrition, health, and development of both mother and child.

Aggressive marketing for breast-milk substitutes has made it difficult to improve the rates of breastfeeding. In fact, by 2019, global sales of breast-milk substitutes are expected to reach $70.6 billion. The issue has been worsened by the consistent lack of support, promotion, and protection of breastfeeding by international funders and governments.

The current breastfeeding promotion encourages women to breastfeed; however, there isn’t a strong supportive health-care system in place, especially when it comes to educating about breastfeeding.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Robert Preidt, “Worldwide Boost in Breast-Feeding Could Save 800,000 Lives: Study,” Medline Plus, January 29,2016.