Increasing global support for breastfeeding can save 515,000 lives and $1.5 billion every day

Woman breastfeeds her child.

Nearly $575 million in global economic and human capital is lost each year due to inadequate government encouragement and support for breastfeeding, according to data from the latest report The cost of not breastfeeding.

The 2022 report, published for world breastfeeding week (1 August – 7 August) notes that these losses are the result of increased infant and maternal mortality and other health-related costs and account for an average of 0.7% of a nation’s gross national income.

However, according to the report by the Alive and Thrive Initiative and Nutrition International, increased support for breastfeeding at the country level could not only save 515,000 lives each year, but also save the global economy $1.5 billion every day.

This support would be in line with World Health Organization recommendations, which include: Start breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continue breastfeeding with complementary foods from six months to two years and beyond.

“Breastfeeding is the most important building block of a healthy nutritional system and one of the best ways to give a child the right start in life,” said Joel Spicer, President and CEO of Nutrition International.

“But women around the world are not getting the support, resources and protection they need to start breastfeeding early enough and to maintain it beyond the recommended length of time. Governments must make breastfeeding a top policy priority and with the Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, policymakers can see the real benefits of doing so.”

The revised report includes tools like a new user-friendly dashboard and data from 180 countries. In addition to mortality rates and healthcare costs, the report provides new calculations for the impact of not breastfeeding on childhood obesity, IQ losses and education.

Inadequate breastfeeding has negative effects on children ‘across the board’

Investing in breastfeeding can improve health later in life.

Inadequate rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can later lead to increased health care costs as well as reduced children’s cognitive abilities, affecting their education and future income potential.

The lack of support may have to do with the increased promotion of breast milk substitutes found by WHO undermines breastfeeding through the use of digital ads and other forms of advertising.

For families, not breastfeeding also increases the cost of living as household income is diverted to bottle feeding or other breast milk substitutes.

The global breastfeeding collective recommends seven policy measures that national governments can implement to support and encourage breastfeeding, including enacting paid leave and breastfeeding practices in the workplace, strengthening links between healthcare facilities and communities, and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

The Code seeks to stop the “aggressive and inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes.”

“Increasing breastfeeding rates through supportive measures and policies can help save the lives of mothers and children and protect the economy from avoidable losses,” said Sandra Remancus, director of Alive & Thrive.

Photo credits: WHO, UNICEF.

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