In 2010 more than 7.7 million children died before their fifth birthday. Over 98% of these deaths occurred in developing countries, and recent estimates have attributed hundreds of thousands of these deaths to suboptimal breastfeeding.
This study estimated prevalence of suboptimal breastfeeding for 137 developing countries from 1990 to 2010. These estimates were compared against WHO infant feeding recommendations and combined with effect sizes from existing literature to estimate associated disease burden using a standard comparative risk assessment approach. These prevalence estimates were disaggregated by wealth quintile and linked with child mortality rates to assess how improved rates of breastfeeding may affect child health inequalities.
In 2010, the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding ranged from 3.5% in Djibouti to 77.3% in Rwanda. The proportion of child Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) attributable to suboptimal breastfeeding is 7.6% at the global level and as high as 20.2% in Swaziland. Suboptimal breastfeeding is a leading childhood risk factor in all developing countries and consistently ranks higher than water and sanitation. Within most countries, breastfeeding prevalence rates do not vary considerably across wealth quintiles.
Breastfeeding is an effective child health intervention that does not require extensive health system infrastructure. Improvements in rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can contribute to the reduction of child mortality inequalities in developing countries.