No country in the world is meeting breastfeeding standards set set by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), as revealed in a new report on World Breastfeeding Week 2017.
In collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, the organisations created the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, evaluating 194 nations on their breastfeeding rates. It found that only 40% of children younger than six months are breastfed exclusively and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60%.
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Analysis showed that an annual investment of $4.70 (US) per newborn is required to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50% by 2025.
WHO evidence shows that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers and is especially critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants.
Mothers who breastfeed have been shown to have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.
‘Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life,’ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. ‘Breast milk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive.’
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The Global Breastfeeding Collective is calling on countries to increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years, enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, and strengthen links between health facilities and communities to encourage community networks that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.
Reflecting on the data, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) concurred that improvements need to be made in the UK, where mothers are deterred from breastfeeding due to a lack of available information and guidance.
‘Investment in specialist midwives and high quality postnatal support for breastfeeding must be a public health priority,’ said RCM public health advisor Clare Livingstone.
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‘Research by the RCM and Netmums in 2014 showed that that many women do not get the support they need postnatally, and midwives also said they were not able to give the level of they support they wanted to.
‘By increasing breastfeeding rates we will improve the future health of the nation in so many ways. Preventing ill health is best value for NHS money - so why are we not investing more in it?’