Report: Babies and Mothers Failed by Lack of Investment in Breastfeeding

Investing $4.70 per newborn could generate $300 billion in economic gains by 2025

No country in the world fully meets recommended standards for breastfeeding, according to a report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a new initiative to increase global breastfeeding rates.

The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations, found that only 40% of children younger than 6 months of age are breastfed exclusively (given nothing but breast milk), and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60%.

Evidence shows that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers. It is especially critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants. Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.

“Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Breast milk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive.”

The scorecard was released alongside a new analysis demonstrating that an annual investment of only $4.70 per newborn is required to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children younger than 6 months of age to 50% by 2025.

The analysis, entitled Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding, suggests that meeting this target could save the lives of 520,000 children under the age of 5 years and potentially generate $300 billion in economic gains over 10 years as a result of reduced illness and health care costs and increased productivity.

“Breastfeeding is one of the most effective—and cost-effective—investments nations can make in the health of their youngest members and the future health of their economies and societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their babies—and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost opportunity.”

 The investment case shows that in five of the world’s largest emerging economies—China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nigeria—the lack of investment in breastfeeding results in an estimated 236,000 child deaths per year and $119 billion in economic losses.

Globally, investment in breastfeeding is far too low, according to the report. Each year, governments in lower- and middle-income countries spend approximately $250 million on breastfeeding programs; donors provide only an additional $85 million.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective is calling on countries to:

  • Increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through the age of 2 years.
  • Fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions through strong legal measures that are enforced and independently monitored by organizations free from conflicts of interest.
  • Enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labor Organization’s maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement, including provisions for the informal sector.
  • Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in maternity facilities, including providing breast milk for sick and vulnerable newborns.
  • Improve access to skilled breastfeeding counseling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programs in health facilities.
  • Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, and encourage community networks that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.
  • Strengthen monitoring systems that track the progress of policies, programs, and funding toward achieving both national and global breastfeeding targets.

The report adds that breastfeeding is critical for the achievement of many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It improves nutrition, prevents child mortality, and decreases the risk of noncommunicable diseases, and supports cognitive development and education. Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth, and reducing inequalities.

Source: UNICEF; August 1, 2017.