Improving breastfeeding rates around the world could save more than 820,000 children under the age of 5, according to findings published Thursday by UNICEF.
The organization’s report details breastfeeding practices around the world and outlines suggestions to increase breastfeeding rates globally. It specifically calls for a narrowing of the gap in rates between high- and low-income countries.
UNICEF estimates that 21% of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed, with that percentage dropping to 4% in low- and middle-income countries. The report states that improving these rates would protect more children against life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
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Countries like Bhutan, Madagascar, and Peru, for example, have breastfeeding rates of 99%, but those rates drop to 74.4% in the United States, 63% in France and 55% in Ireland.
Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits to babies, including boosting immune systems and supporting brain development. It has also been linked to a higher IQ.
More than that, breastfeeding can also prevent postpartum haemorrhage and protect mothers against breast and ovarian cancers, the UNICEF report finds.
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Still, approximately 7.6 million babies each year are not breastfed.
Breastfeeding rates vary between high- and low-income countries, but also between high- and low-income families within different countries.
In high-income countries, mothers from lower-income families are less likely to breastfeed, whereas in low- and middle-income countries, mothers who do not breastfeed are generally from wealthier households, the report said.
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To increase breastfeeding across the board, the organization stressed the importance of providing paid parental leave, implementing the right to breastfeed at work and restricting the marketing of baby formula.
UNICEF also indicated that community support will play a critical role in increasing breastfeeding rates, meaning that encouragement from fathers and family members, as well as increased normality around nursing in public, are essential.
"Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Shahida Azfar, said in a press release. "As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we must give the world’s mothers the support they need to breastfeed."
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Among other recommendations were increased hospital guidance on nursing and improved funding and awareness.
Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG number five on gender equality, knowing that creating conditions for women and men to equally care for their young children is critical in the fight to eliminate poverty around the world. You can take action here.