NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania— The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action celebrated the 22 annual World Breastfeeding Week from Aug. 1 to 7, in more than 170 countries, to promote, protect and support the act of breastfeeding. The theme for this year’s week-long campaign was “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – For Life!” to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding, especially in developing countries.
While reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are two of the eight Millennium Development Goals that directly relate to World Breastfeeding Week, the U.N.’s Scientific Committee on Nutrition revealed how the health benefits of breastfeeding is actually related to all of the MDGs.
Below are the eight MDGs and an explanation of how breastfeeding relates to the achievement of each of these goals:
1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger:
Not only is breastfeeding simple and cost-effective when compared to artificial feeding, but when a child is breastfed for the first two years of life, the child receives high quality energy and nutrients that help prevent both hunger and malnutrition.
2. Achieving universal primary education:
Breastfeeding promotes a child’s readiness to learn by enhancing mental development and reducing the risk of stunting, which affected about 162 million children globally in 2012 according to the World Health Organization.
3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women:
If every child, regardless of gender, is breastfed for the first six months of life, starting within an hour after birth as the WHO suggests, then every child is given a fair start in life considering that complementary foods lead to differences in growth between genders. Breastfeeding also empowers women since this is exclusively a woman’s right.
4. Reducing child mortality:
According to the Executive Director of UNICEF Anthony Lake, “Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five unnecessary deaths. That’s more than 500,000 children every year. More than 1,500 children every day.” However, both UNICEF and WHO estimate that only 43 percent of newborns are breastfed within the first hour of life globally.
5. Improving maternal health:
For the mother, breastfeeding decreases postpartum blood loss, and reduces the risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, along with osteoporosis.
6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases:
Although a child can become infected with HIV if breastfed by a HIV-positive mother, the one-in-three risk of infection is greatly reduced if both the mother and child are receiving antiretroviral therapy.
7. Ensuring environmental sustainability:
After the U.N.’s Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute estimated that almost one-third of the food produced globally is wasted or lost, more attention is being drawn to the amount of wasted food. Breastfeeding leads to less milk industry and less pharmaceutical, plastic and aluminum waste. Firewood and fossil fuels are also used less when a mother chooses to breastfeed.
8. Developing a global partnership for development:
Organizations like WABA and The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding encourage multi-sectoral collaboration to ensure that all women are aware of breastfeeding’s numerous health for both themselves and their child.
With less than 500 days remaining until the eight MDGs’ December 2015 deadline, WABA helped demonstrate through World Breastfeeding Week that all global issues are intertwined and must be addressed equally in order to achieve these life-saving goals.
– Meghan Orner