Breastfeeding is best for babies. It’s unfortunate that with the rise of formula milk comes the dwindling number of breastfeeding moms. That’s why the most comprehensive research on breastfeeding to date is out to drive in the importance of breastfeeding once again.
A two-part series research on breastfeeding by The Lancet shows that if all mothers would breastfeed, more than 823,000 deaths of children under five years old can be prevented each year. Poor government policies, lack of community support and an aggressive formula milk industry have led to below par universal breastfeeding numbers according to the research, reports The Guardian.
Children who breastfeed for longer have higher IQs, lower death rates and less risk of infection compared to those who only breastfed for a short period of time or not at all, researchers note. In addition, breastfeeding also helps prevent diabetes and obesity in children later in life.
Let’s not forget moms. Breastfeeding can protect mothers against breast cancer, and reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes, added the researchers. In fact, their study found that 22,000 deaths from breast cancer every year can be prevented if moms from lower- to middle-income countries would breastfeed for two years and moms in high-income countries would breastfeed up to 12 months.
The research also shows that nearly 80% of children worldwide receive breast milk. However, only 37% of children six months and below in low- and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed; far below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of half of all children below six months being exclusively breastfed in 2025. Researchers attribute the dismal rates to the low support women are getting to continue, or even start, breastfeeding.
“The success or failure of breastfeeding should not be seen solely as the responsibility of the woman,” said Dr. Nigel Rollins of WHO who co-authored the series. “Her ability to breastfeed is very much shaped by the support and the environment in which she lives. There is a broader responsibility of governments and society to support women through policies and programmes in the community.”
Researchers also found that women in poorer countries breastfeed more than women in high-income countries. As income rose they noticed that women started to switch to formula milk, as seen in wealthier countries. Which isn’t wise as an estimated $71bn of gross national income is lost in poor countries and $302bn is lost worldwide when women don’t breastfeed.
“Not breastfeeding is seen as the modern and sophisticated thing to do – it seems convenient, it allows women to get back to work, it’s all the things you want to ‘achieve’. We’ve seen this trajectory with developed countries and don’t want it to play out a second time in low- and middle-income countries,” said Rollins.
If you’re looking to meet the WHO’s vision of breastfeeding exclusively up to six months, here’s an important tip to remember from Abbie Venida-Yabot, a lactation counselor certified by the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH): establish your milk supply early on by latching as often as you can.
“The first 6 weeks is key to a stable milk supply as it stabilizes at this time. Latch baby 24/7 so your body feels the actual demand of the baby,” says Venida-Yabot, “After the 6th week, direct feed whenever you are with baby.
“So, if and when you return to work, latch before you leave, upon arrival, all throughout the night, all through weekends and holidays. Direct stimulation should never be lost,” she advises.
Sources: January 28, 2016. "Breastfeeding could prevent 800,000 child deaths, Lancet says" (theguardian.com) January 29, 2016. "Breastfeeding could prevent 800,000 child deaths worldwide, new study finds". (independent.co.uk) January 29, 2016. "Increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent over 800,000 child deaths and 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year" (sciencedaily.com)