If Shakespeare had lived in modern times, I am sure he would have written both a great tragedy and a hilarious ironic comedy about breastfeeding. A source of nutrition, yes, but also economic impact, health, joy, frustration and public opinion. So many complex social and psychological issues surround this incredible human function. This article cannot address everything, but it will attempt to give a broad overview of the significant global and individual benefits of breastfeeding.
Why is breast best and who says so?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has many roles in worldwide public health, a big one is research and global statistics. Here are their recent numbers and views regarding the benefits of breastfeeding. Prepare to be shocked. It is important for us all to understand why formula companies have the same warnings and bans on advertising as cigarettes and alcohol companies, and why breast, really is best.
"If breastfeeding did not already exist, someone who invented it today would deserve a dual Nobel Prize in medicine and economics" Keith Hanson, VP for Human Development, World Bank.
What supports such a magnificent statement? Breastfeeding is proven to optimize infant immunity, growth and overall intelligence of those babies who are breastfed exclusively for six months, and then continued with solids until at least a year. What could increasing breastfeeding rates do for our world?
1. Preventing childhood illness and reduce childhood death:
Improving breastfeeding would save the lives of 820 000 children under 5 years old annually, 87% of them less than 6 months old. It would reduce deaths from infections in babies less than three years old by 88%. That's incredible!
2. Breastfeeding also benefits women's health:
Each year a mother breastfeeds, she decreases her breast cancer risk by 6 %. Breastfeeding also decreases the risk of ovarian cancer. Current breastfeeding rates prevent almost 20 000 deaths from breast cancer a year! Increasing breastfeeding rates will save even more women.
3. The Economic benefits of increasing breastfeeding:
Breastfed infants have higher intelligence and are more likely to get a tertiary education. Increased breastfeeding to global goals would add US $ 302 billion to the global economy due to increased productivity associated with higher intelligence. Money would be saved on healthcare costs too. Research totals a potential saving of $400 million in US, UK, Brazil and China! That's significant.
These are impressive numbers and give an idea of the impact breastfeeding can have on a better world. Unfortunately formula companies don't care about any of these things, and their sales continue to go up, along with childhood death rates.
Not every mother can breastfeed, often for health reasons. But across the world and in South Africa, breastmilk banks are opening. Here, mothers can safely donate breastmilk to mothers who are unable to breastfeed for whatever reason. Hopefully these facilities will grow, as will knowledge, support and acceptance. Breastfeeding is something that we should all be passionate about and work towards increasing. Our children are our future, and there is no doubt, that breastfeeding gives them the best start.
All statistics from Nigel Rollings 2016 visiting lecture UKZN, 2016.