Leading health organisations from around the world recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
They also recommend breastfeeding continues alongside suitable complementary foods for two years and beyond.
Indeed, breastfeeding is important from a public health perspective.
UNICEF States The Obvious – Breastfeeding Mothers Aren’t Getting Enough Support
Research has shown improving breastfeeding rates could help prevent 20,000 breast cancer deaths annually, as well as prevent nearly half of all diarrhoea episodes and one-third of all respiratory infections in babies.
While breastfeeding is natural, it’s also a learned skill, as such can take some time to get the hang of.
Especially as they learn, it’s very important for mothers to receive appropriate support to help them achieve their breastfeeding goals.
Unfortunately, UNICEF and the World Health Organization in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective have found both mothers and children around the world are not receiving the support they need.
The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard
The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard was commissioned by UNICEF and the World Health Organization in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective.
This report assessed 194 countries and found breastfeeding support to be significantly lacking.
The overall rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age is 40%.
In addition, only 23 countries had exclusive breastfeeding rates over 60%, including Peru, Bolivia, Cambodia, Zambia Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Countries with rates of exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 5 months under 20% include Kuwait, Somalia, Venezuela, Serbia and the Dominican Republic.
Data from 2012 shows rates of babies in developed countries receiving any breastmilk at six months varied widely.
Almost 100% of women in Norway and Sweden initiated breastfeeding, and at six months, 88% and 72% of babies respectively were being breastfed.
Compare this to the US, where 75% of women initiate breastfeeding, and only 44% of babies are being breastfeed at six months. In the UK, 81% of women initiate breastfeeding, with only 25% of babies having any breastmilk at six months.
In Australia, most women want to breastfeed, with 96% of women initiating breastfeeding. Yet this number drops to 15% at six months.
This highlights the importance of more breastfeeding support so more mothers can reach their breastfeeding goals.
Breastfeeding Is Economically Important
We know breastfeeding is important from a public health perspective, but it’s also been found to be important from an economic perspective.
The scorecard also revealed that a yearly investment of just US$4.70 per newborn would increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50% by 2025.
According to ‘Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding’, this small investment could save the lives of 520,000 children under five years of age and could translate into US$300 billion in economic gains over a decade.
Breastfeeding Support Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Too often, the responsibility for breastfeeding is solely placed on mothers.
Too often the social, political and environmental barriers to breastfeeding are not considered nearly enough.
Yet it’s often these barriers which make it more difficult for mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals.
Breastfeeding support is everyone’s responsibility.
Breastfeeding mothers need time, space and resources to support their decision.
For example, they need accessible and affordable lactation counselling and assistance, support from their families and their wider communities, and better policies such as better paid maternity leave schemes and lactation breaks.
Indeed, there is still much that needs to be done to help increase breastfeeding rates.