Breastfeeding is important. It’s one of the most satisfying activities you can do with your baby – and one of your body’s most miraculous functions. Breast milk provides your newborn’s first immunisation, helping to prevent diarrhoea, chest, ear and other infections, and disease; it promotes good brain development and your child’s ability to be educated; and contributes significantly to the health and survival of both mother and child.
World Breastfeeding Week 2016
While not always possible for all new moms, breastfeeding has numerous benefits over bottle-feeding and has been the subject of a host of articles and forums, including our blog ‘Breastfeeding ABCs’. So why is it that so many women who are able to feed their children themselves choose milk substitutes instead?
This is Breastfeeding Week, and we’re supporting WHO in its efforts to raise awareness and breastfeeding rates among mothers globally. The key theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2016 is about ‘how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share.’
Why aren’t more mothers breastfeeding?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘Worldwide, fewer than 1 in 5 infants are breastfed for 12 months in high-income countries and only 2 out of 3 children between 6 months and 2 years receive any breast milk in low- and middle-income countries.’
By 2025, WHO’s World Health Assembly is aiming for a 50 per cent global exclusive breastfeeding rate. Currently, the rate in low- and middle-income countries is 37 per cent.
Well, it seems that many people around the world have false perceptions about milk substitutes. ‘After drinking infant formula, ‘ said one Cambodian mother, ‘the child becomes smarter and cuter; also has strong bones and grows well … it creates love between mother and child.’ Such is the power of marketing.
Of course, some babies do require breast-milk substitutes, but, say Elizabeth Zehner and Elizabeth Ransom of the Helen Keller International’s Assessment and Research on Child Feeding project, marketing can negatively affect breastfeeding even among women who can breastfeed. That’s why the World Health Assembly passed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1981 – to prohibit manufacturers from promoting these products. Nevertheless, the advertising continues, even in countries that have adopted laws against promotion, with displays showing bottles or suggesting use for infants less than six months of age.
In Africa, most mums in the rural areas of poorer countries breastfeed their children. But in Senegal’s Dakar Department, for example, moms with children younger than two years old watch televised ads for breast-milk substitutes, and many stores selling infant foods have promotions for breast-milk substitutes.
The problem seems most common in Asia, where milk substitute ads are screened regularly, even in hospitals, despite legislation. In Nepal, milk substitutes are even recommended by health workers, whose patients are 16 times more likely to feed breast-milk substitutes to their newborns than other mums.
Globally, in higher-income countries, milk formulas may be used by women returning to work, who find mixing powder in bottles more convenient than expressing their own milk.
Why everyone should breastfeed their babies
According to recently published research in the medical journal <em>The Lancet</em>, if mums in the 75 countries classified as ‘low- and middle-income countries’ around the world breast-fed their babies, ‘more than 820,000 lives would be saved annually and the global economy would expand by billions of dollars.’ And, say Shawn Baker and Cesar Victor of the global development community Devex, ‘Breastfeeding is still one of the best investments we can make in maternal and child health.’