The Lancet Breastfeeding Series, launched January 29th 2016, is the first of its kind to evaluate global breastfeeding levels, trends and inequalities, as well as the short- and long-term benefits for both mother and child. The Series shows that about 820,000 child deaths could be prevented annually (about 13 percent of all under-5 child deaths) by improving breastfeeding rates, in addition to the lives already saved by current breastfeeding practices. In addition, nearly half of all diarrhoeal diseases and one-third of all respiratory infections in children in low- and middle-income countries could be prevented with increased rates of breastfeeding.
Children who are breastfeed perform better in intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and less prone to diabetes later in life. Mothers who breastfeed also reduce their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. At current breastfeeding rates, an estimated 20 000 deaths from breast cancer are prevented and an additional 20 000 could be saved if rates improved.
The Series on breastfeeding finds that despite strong health and economic benefits from breastfeeding, few children are exclusively breastfed until 6 months, as recommended by WHO. Globally, an estimated 1 in 3 infants under 6 months are exclusively breastfed – a rate that has not improved in 2 decades. Breastfeeding has substantial benefits for women and children in rich and poor countries alike, and now the evidence is stronger than ever.
“Supporting breastfeeding makes economic sense for rich and poor countries and this latest breastfeeding study proves it,” said Series co-lead, Dr. Cesar Victora, emeritus professor from the International Center for Equity in Health, Post-Graduate Programme in Epidemiology, Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. “Breastfeeding is a powerful and unique intervention that benefits mothers and children, yet breastfeeding rates are not improving as we would like them to—and in some countries, are declining. We hope the scientific evidence amassed in this Series will help revert these negative trends and create a healthier society for everyone—mother, child, poor and rich.”
Breastfeeding has also been identified as a high impact intervention to achieve the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030), which was launched alongside the Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap for ending preventable deaths in a generation. The Every Newborn action plan includes actions and indicators for early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is important to child survival in all settings, but also to ensuring that children can thrive and reach their full cognitive and developmental potentials throughout their lives.