August 1st marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, a global awareness event created to highlight not only the importance of breastfeeding for healthy children, but to evaluate progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 1990 by governments and the United Nations to fight poverty and promote healthy and sustainable development in a comprehensive way the year 2015.
Most people don’t understand just how much of a impact breastfeeding can have on global health, but according to the the UN’s Scientific Committee on Nutrition, breastfeeding plays a role in all 8 of the MDGs. Here is how breastfeeding ties into world health:
- Goal#1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, two years of exclusive and continuous breast feeding for a child is a cost-effective and healthy way to care for children. Not only does breast milk contain all the nutrients a baby needs, it does not burden the household with extra financial constraints.
- Goal#2: Achieve universal primary education: Because breast feeding provides complete nutritional balance for a growing baby, it sets the foundation for learning by lowering the risk of stunting and enhancing mental development.
- Goal#3: Promote gender equality and empower women: Research indicates growth difference start to occur between female and male children when alternative foods are introduced; to give both men and women an equal start in life, breastfeeding is a universal form of nutrition. What’s more, breastfeeding is something unique to women and should be protected and respected by law.
- Goal#4: Reduce child mortality: Up to 60 percent of mortality in children under the age of 5 is related to malnutrition. Breastfeeding is one of the most nutritious ways to feed a baby; experts estimate 13 percent of global infant mortality could be avoided by breastfeeding practices alone.
- Goal#5: Improve maternal health: Women who breastfeed often have better health outcomes according to research. These women have fewer pregnancies close together, suffer less postpartum blood loss and have a decreased risk for a number of female-specific cancers.
- Goal#6: Combat HIV, malaria and other diseases: Mothers pass on antibodies to their children through breast milk. The more children who are breastfeeding, the more children who will have acquired immunity to certain illnesses.
- Goal#7: Ensure environmental sustainability: Breastfeeding cuts down the need for items used to manufacture milk substitutes such as plastics, aluminum waste and fossil fuels.
- Goal#8: DEvelop a global partnership for development: Breastfeeding is done in every country around the world and therefore offers a platform to reach people on a global level.
“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are meant to be achieved by 2015 – next year,” states the World Breastfeeding Week website. “Although much progress has taken place, there is still a lot of “unfinished business.”
Here are some examples: Poverty has gone down, but 1 in 8 people still go to bed hungry. Undernutrition affects about a quarter of all children globally. Overweight, the other form of malnutrition is becoming more common too. Globally, maternal mortality has declined from 400 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 210 in 2010, but fewer than half of women deliver in baby-friendly maternities. By protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, YOU can contribute to each of the MDGs in a substantial way.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)indicates breast milk is a unique nutritional source that cannot adequately be replaced by any other food, including infant formula. While it is possible for pollutants to accumulate in breast milk, it remains superior to infant formula from the perspective of the overall health of both mother and child.
The benefits listed by the NRDC include:
- “Many studies show that breastfeeding strengthens the immune system. During nursing, the mother passes antibodies to the child, which help the child resist diseases and help improve the normal immune response to certain vaccines.
- Respiratory illness is far more common among formula-fed children. In fact, an analysis of many different research studies concluded that infants fed formula face a threefold greater risk of being hospitalized with a severe respiratory infection than do infants breast-fed for a minimum of four months.
- Diarrheal disease is three to four times more likely to occur in infants fed formula than those fed breast milk.
- Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the likelihood of ear infections, and to prevent recurrent ear infections. Ear infections are a major reason that infants take multiple courses of antibiotics.
- In developing countries, differences in infection rates can seriously affect an infant’s chances for survival. For example, in Brazil, a formula-fed baby is 14 times more likely to die than an exclusively breast-fed baby.
- Researchers have observed a decrease in the probability of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in breast-fed infants.
- Another apparent benefit from breastfeeding may be protection from allergies. Eczema, an allergic reaction, is significantly rarer in breast-fed babies. A review of 132 studies on allergy and breastfeeding concluded that breastfeeding appears to help protect children from developing allergies, and that the effect seems to be particularly strong among children whose parents have allergies.”