Why Breastfeeding Matters to Babies and Mothers

This post was originally published today on the World Vision USA’s blog.

When I visit low- and middle-income countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, the Philippines, and Tanzania, I am always heartened by the number of mothers I see breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding for so many of these mothers is the best and most affordable way for them to nourish their babies. While every mother does not breastfeed to be sure, the sheer number of mothers I see breastfeeding at local clinics, while walking with their baby strapped to them or taking a break on a city bench, gives me hope.

Even given the breastfeeding mothers I see time and time again, the overall breastfeeding numbers have stagnated and only 40 percent of mothers breastfeed globally. In fact, only one in three infants less than six months of age is exclusively breastfed. That is why it is vitally important to continue spreading awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding, especially for babies who are born and live in low-resource settings.

This week marks the annual World Breastfeeding Week, where mothers and global health advocates express the critical importance of breastfeeding from the first hour after birth up to at least two years. Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth saves the lives of over 800,000 newborns. That is a compelling enough statistic that one might assume more mothers would breastfeed straight away after birth, but some customs prevent mothers from doing that. For example, in some parts of India, custom dictates that the “first milk” or colostrum should be entirely expressed first. This is dangerous for a newborn because colostrum is rich in antibodies. There is also a global health worker shortage that can sometimes prevent women from being properly trained and encouraged to breastfeed.

More than anything, babies who are breastfed are healthier than those who are fed breast-milk substitutes. Science has proven this. Breastfeeding reduces the chance that a baby will get diarrhea, pneumonia, or both, two of the leading causes of death in children under the age of five. Without a doubt, breastfeeding saves lives.

Breastfeeding also makes women healthier. The World Health Organization has said that women who breastfeed have a reduced chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer, and lose weight after birth faster, which reduces obesity. Additionally, breastfeeding mothers have a 98 percent less chance of becoming pregnant right after delivery, also according to the World Health Organization.

Studies also show that women who are uneducated are 19% more likely to not initiate breastfeeding and 13% less likely to sustain breastfeeding with their babies. This is where health workers are critical like midwife Glenda B. Serato who patiently teaches mothers how to breastfeed at a brand-new clinic in Ormoc, Philippines that was reconstructed by World Vision after Typhoon Haiyan. Midwives help mothers breastfeed right after birth and during well-baby visits, but more importantly during antenatal visits midwives educate and encourage mothers that breastfeeding is best for their babies despite any literature or posters in clinics with milk substitutes and smiling babies splashed on them.

Clearly, breastfeeding rates will increase when the global health worker shortage is remedied and when communities as a whole do not stigmatize breastfeeding for babies.

Ending preventable mother and child deaths within a generation is not impossible. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 (S. 1911) aims to do this by bringing proven, simple, and cost-effective interventions to the most vulnerable people and communities—while increasing transparency and accountability within the U.S. government. Send an email to ask your members of Congress to cosponsor this critical legislation!

Join us in supporting mothers and children and helping to keep them healthy! Sponsor a child today.

See more at: blog.worldvision.org

Photo: Glenda B. Serato, a midwife, teaches this first-time mother the importance of exclusive breastfeeding during a well-baby visit in the Philippines. (Photo: Jennifer James)

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