About 820,000 deaths among infants could be prevented annually if the rate of breastfeeding by nursing mothers is improved around the world, says a report released recently in Washington DC, United States.
The report, which said 87 per cent of the preventable deaths would be among infants under the age of six months, claimed that nearly half of all diarrhea episodes and one-third of all respiratory infections in infants could be prevented with breastfeeding.
It added that such preventable deaths would only be an addition to the lives already saved by the current breastfeeding practices.
The report was published in January 28, 2016 under the Lancet Breastfeeding Series.
The breastfeeding series is said to contain reviews of more than 1,300 studies which looked at the benefits, determinants, and trends in breastfeeding to date.
Breastfeeding also has positive effects on the health of mothers, the report said.
“For each of the first two years a mother breastfeeds over her lifetime,” according to the report, “She decreases her risk of developing invasive breast cancer by six percent.
“She also benefits from reduced ovarian cancer risk.”
The report said approximately 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented each year by breastfeeding, adding that improving the rates could prevent another 20, 000 deaths each year.
“Breastfeeding is one of the few positive health-related behaviours that is more common in poor rather than rich countries, and in poor countries, is a more frequently used behaviour among poor mothers.
“In the absence of breastfeeding, the poor-rich gap in child survival would be even greater,” the report said.
Besides its health benefits to mothers and infants, breastfeeding can boost productivity and lift up national and global economy, according to the report.
“Longer breastfeeding is associated with higher performance on intelligence tests among children and adolescents,” the report said.
“Studies also show that increased intelligence as a result of breastfeeding translated to improved academic performance, increased long-term earnings, and improved productivity.”
According to Lancet Breastfeeding Series, the global costs of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding amounts to more than $300 billion each year, a figure comparable to the entire global pharmaceutical market.
The Series claimed that the world has so far achieved only 37 percent rates of the international recommendations that children should be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months of age.
The World Health Assembly is said to be working on increasing the rate to at least 50 percent by 2025.
The report identified the following as being some of the barriers against breastfeeding: limited or nonexistent maternity leave, gaps in knowledge among healthcare providers, and lack of strong support systems for breastfeeding among family and community as well as cultural traditions unsupportive of breastfeeding.
The report also said that the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes (including infant formula) by their manufacturers and distributors was undermining breastfeeding.
“Newly commissioned market research conducted by Euromonitor International for the Series found that the breastmilk substitute industry’s reach and influence is growing—the retail value is expected to reach US$70.6 billion by 2019,” it said.
“Such a figure far outpaces the dollars spent to promote the benefits of breastfeeding worldwide.”
The Series said that increasing breastfeeding rates to 90 percent in the U.S., China, and Brazil and to 45 percent in the U.K. would cut treatment costs of common childhood illness and save at least US$2.45 billion in the U.S., US$29.5 million in the U.K., US$223.6 million in China, and US$6.0 million in Brazil.
“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.”
Werner Schultink, Chief of Nutrition at UNICEF, said, “Breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival, nutrition and development.
“More investment is required to promote breastfeeding and to encourage governments, health care professionals, workplaces, communities, and families to create an environment that supports, protects, and encourages it.”
Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “The evidence from the Series could not have been more clear: with its linkages to child survival and development, breastmilk is the ultimate personalized medicine.
“Breastfeeding helps children to thrive, and set societies on a path toward prosperity.
“The Series offers a clear call to action for all of us. With greater political will and more investment, we can put children everywhere on the path toward a healthy, prosperous life–starting with breastfeeding.”
Katie Taylor, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for global health at the United States Agency for International Development added, “Anyone who has breastfed knows it is ‘liquid gold.’
“The scientific evidence for the many incredible benefits of breastfeeding are stronger today than ever.
“It is ready to use and perfectly customized for a child’s nutritional needs and immune system. We do not need to spur technological innovations, enhance food production value chains, or incentivize end users.
“It doesn’t have to be manufactured by donors or transported. What we need is a greater sense of urgency to create and provide support for environments that promote breastfeeding.”
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