Breastfeeding saves lives and money in many countries – Its time for action
According to the 2016 Lancet report series funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, breastfeeding saves lives, improves health and cuts health service cost in every country. The series underscores the importance of policy interventions to increase and sustain breastfeeding levels. Breastfeeding if scaled up could prevent 823,000 child deaths (under 5) per year and 20,000 deaths of women from breast cancer.
It is time for policy makers to step up and recognise that breastfeeding makes countries healthier and wealthier. The growth and development of societies depends on good nutrition.
Recent studies show that breastfeeding provides protection against infections, prevents obesity, and improves intelligence in children. While for nursing mothers, it gives protection against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and improves birth spacing. Breastfeeding has also been identified as a high-impact intervention to achieve the global strategy for women’s, children’s, and adolescents’ health (2016-2030), which was launched alongside the Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap for ending preventable deaths in a generation.
Breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman. Society has a collective responsibility to promote breastfeeding, and to create an enabling supportive environment.
Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective interventions for newborn health, but the support needed is not always available. There must be policies and structures in place to allow mothers breastfeed successfully.
“Majority of mothers say they want to breastfeed, but while 77 per cent start the process, only 16 per cent are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months, citing lack of support as one of the biggest challenges.” It is now time for the government to take action by raising awareness, improving maternity laws, enforcing crèches in the work place, designating private areas for mothers to express milk at work, and preventing aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes.
Organisations such as Child Health Advocacy Initiative (CHAI) and Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN) has taken the lead in Nigeria to educate and inform mothers on how to breastfeed successfully through training programmes in communities, primary healthcare centres, and schools. They also engage in advocacy programmes and distribution of information materials and books on breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is not just a matter of health; it’s a matter of human capital. Breastfeeding provides short and long-term economic and environmental advantages to children, women, and the society. To realise these gains, powerful political support and financial investments are needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. Investing in breastfeeding is an investment in the future of the country.
*Mrs. Lola Alonge is the Executive Director of Child Health Advocacy Initiative (CHAI)
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