Breastfeeding gives all children the healthiest start in life. Breastmilk promotes cognitive development and acts as a baby’s first vaccine, providing critical protection from disease and death. Breastfeeding also reduces the burden of childhood and maternal illness, lowering health care costs, creating healthier families and strengthening the development of nations.
When mothers breastfeed, everyone benefits. Yet today, only 41 per cent of the world’s children younger than six months are exclusively breastfed. By age two, only 45 per cent receive any breastmilk at all. Increasing breastfeeding worldwide would prevent more than 800,000 child deaths each year, particularly those associated with diarrhoea and pneumonia. Optimal breastfeeding also has the potential to prevent nearly 100,000 maternal deaths from cancer and type II diabetes each year.
Time, resources and protective policies are critical to support breastfeeding mothers. This advocacy brief calls for family-friendly policies—such as paid maternity leave, access to quality childcare, breastfeeding breaks and dedicated nursing spaces— to provide mothers and babies with the time to recover from birth, bond with their babies and breastfeed in the critical early weeks and months of life. These policies are particularly important for working mothers, for whom returning to paid or unpaid work is one of the greatest barriers to breastfeeding.