Investing in breastfeeding for healthier mothers and babies

By Alison Greig, Senior Technical Advisor, Infant and Young Child Nutrition and Jennifer Busch-Hallen, Senior Technical Advisor, Maternal and Neonatal Health and Nutrition 

Breastfeeding African mother with child

Breastfeeding brings enormous benefits for both the baby and the mother.

There is nothing in this world stronger than a mother’s desire to care for her child.  Whether emotional, social, or physical, mothers will do everything in their power to ensure their child’s most essential needs are met.

Although this eagerness to provide the best possible care for one’s child is universal, the ability to respond to a child’s needs is, in reality, unequal. This is true even for one of the best ways possible of ensuring a child’s health and survival – breastfeeding.

In fact, breastfeeding rates have remained below 40 percent globally for the past 20 years, observing little to no increase since the 1980’s. These statistics are alarming.

Yet, “optimal breastfeeding”, which includes timely initiation and exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and continued feeding up to two years of age or beyond, has the potential to save the lives of over 820 000 children under the age of five years each year.

Breastfeeding brings enormous benefits for both the baby and the mother. It provides the ideal nutrition for optimal growth and development. Breastfed babies are less likely to get respiratory infections, diarrhea, asthma, allergies, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome. We also know that breastfed babies have a lower risk of diabetes and obesity and can have higher IQ scores in later childhood.

For mothers, breastfeeding improves birth spacing, helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and strengthens the bond with her baby. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of certain cancers, including breast and ovarian and may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke even long after giving birth.

So if breastfeeding has proven benefits for the health and survival of both mothers and babies, why have rates stalled?

There are many barriers that contribute to low rates of breastfeeding such as social norms, lack of decision-power among women and lack of social support from the family and community, health worker shortage and lack of counselling and support for women, inadequate maternity leave legislations, and unregulated and inappropriate marketing activities within the breast-milk substitute industry.

The fact of the matter is, breastfeeding is not solely a mother’s job. She needs encouragement, support, commitment and collective action at all levels – from family members, community leaders and members, health care providers, skilled counsellors, employers, policymakers, among many others.

Nutrition International is an active advocate for breastfeeding

Nutrition International believes breastmilk is one of the best foods for newborns and infants. In addition to containing all the energy and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life, it has unparalleled immunological and other properties that protect against various illnesses and diseases and promote health.
For all these reasons and more, Nutrition International is committed to protecting, promoting and supporting optimal breastfeeding, especially where it is needed most.

In in the past two years, Nutrition International has significantly expanded its activities around breastfeeding, mostly through Right Start programs.

Our work in this area includes:

  • Improving the capacity of front line health workers to counsel mothers about breastfeeding during antenatal care visits; to support women to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after birth; and to continue supporting women to exclusively breastfeed their child up to six months of age and continue through that child’s complementary feeding period.
  • Helping to increase mothers, families and communities’ knowledge of the importance of breastfeeding through behavior change interventions.
  • Building community structures to support mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue feeding as a cornerstone of infant and young child nutrition programming.
  • Supporting maternity wards to be “Baby Friendly” according to WHO standards which ensures breastfeeding is the cornerstone of newborn care, and extending the same support to the community level, as per the Baby Friendly Community Initiative
  • Improving monitoring of breastfeeding indicators at facility and in the community, and using this information to improve programs.
  • Advocating and working with governments and other partners to implement Kangaroo Mother Care.

There are millions of mothers who want to breastfeed, but do not have the support they need. We need to do better – and we can. In collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective and through our programs, Nutrition International is committed to providing women and children with the best possible care.

During World Breastfeeding Week let’s rally behind the global effort to increase investment in breastfeeding to help mothers provide optimal care for their newborns and infants.

Alison Greig headshot

Alison Greig

Senior Technical Advisor for Infant and Young Child Health and Nutrition

Alison Greig, Senior Technical Advisor for Infant and Young Child Health and Nutrition, provides program guidance, support and input to all of Nutrition International’s vitamin A supplementation, zinc and infant, young child feeding programs, at the country, regional and global levels. She has specialized expertise in vitamin A supplementation program design, implementation, and monitoring, vitamin A supply procurement, country-level forecasting and supply chain management, and in other child survival intervention programs. She has a BScH in Biology and an MSc in Public Health.  Alison joined Nutrition International in 1995.

Jenny Busch Hallen headshot

Jennifer Busch-Hallen

Senior Technical Advisor for Maternal and Neonatal Health and Nutrition

Jennifer (Jenny) Busch-Hallen, Senior Technical Advisor, Maternal and Neonatal Health and Nutrition, provides strategic direction to Nutrition International’s programs that advocate, build capacity and generate evidence for improving maternal and newborn health and nutrition. Originally from Australia, Jenny has over 21 years in international and indigenous public health nutrition. She has a Bachelor of Science and Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics. Jenny joined Nutrition International in 2015.

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