Increasing Global Support for Breastfeeding Can Save 515,000 Lives and $1.5 Billion Daily
Woman breastfeeding her child.

Nearly $575 million in global economic and human capital is lost every year due to insufficient government promotion of, and support for, breastfeeding, according to data from the latest report on  The Cost of Not Breastfeeding

The 2022 report, released for World Breastfeeding Week (1 August – 7 August) finds that these losses are the result of increased child and maternal mortality and other healthcare costs, and account for an average 0.7% of a nation’s gross national income. 

However, increasing country-level support for breastfeeding could save not only 515,000 lives each year, it could also save the global economy $1.5 billion each day, according to the report by the Alive and Thrive initiative and Nutrition International. 

This support would be in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which include initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continuing breastfeeding alongside complementary feeding from six months to two years and beyond.

“Breastfeeding is the primary building block of a healthy food system and one of the best ways to give a child the right start in life,” said Joel Spicer, President and CEO, Nutrition International. 

“But women around the world aren’t getting the support, resources, and protection they need to begin breastfeeding soon enough and sustain it for the recommended period. Governments need to make breastfeeding a top public policy priority, and with the Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, policymakers can see the real-world benefits of doing just that.”

The revamped report includes tools like a new user-friendly dashboard and data from 180 countries. In addition to mortality rates and healthcare costs, the report offers new calculations for the impact of not breastfeeding on childhood obesity, IQ losses and education. 

Inadequate breastfeeding has negative impacts for children ‘down the line’ 

Investment in breastfeeding can improve health outcomes later in life.

Inadequate rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can lead to increased healthcare costs down the line, as well as decreased cognitive ability for children, impacting their education and future income potential. 

The lack of support may have to do with the increased promotion for breast milk substitutes, which were found by WHO to undermine breastfeeding through use of digital ads and other forms of advertisement. 

For families, not breastfeeding also increases the cost of living, as household income is redirected to formula or other breastmilk substitutes. 

The Global Breastfeeding Collective recommends seven policy actions that national governments can implement to support and promote breastfeeding, including enacting paid leave and workplace breastfeeding practices, strengthening the links between health facilities and communities, and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

The Code is meant to stop the “aggressive and inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes.”

“Increasing breastfeeding rates through supportive actions and policies can help to save the lives of mothers and children, and protect economies from preventable losses,” said Sandra Remancus, Director, Alive & Thrive.

Image Credits: WHO, UNICEF.

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