This week (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week!
Our nutrition expert writes about how exclusive "breastfeeding really is the best start a newborn can have."
Read about the impact that breastfeeding and good nutrition training is making in Ethiopia.
The Lancet Breastfeeding Series was released on January 29 with little fanfare outside of the nutrition community. I attended the launch of the series in Washington, DC and was more than impressed with the main findings:
- Scaling up breastfeeding to be nearly universal could prevent 823,000 annual deaths of children younger than five years old, and 20,000 annual deaths of mothers. (Read article here.)
- The benefits of breastfeeding for children include fewer infections, increased intelligence, and probable protection against overweight and diabetes, in addition to cancer prevention for mothers. (Read article here.)
- Not breastfeeding is associated with lower intelligence and economic losses of about $302 billion annually or 0.49% of world gross national income. (Read article here.)
These results are significant, especially if you are an economist, medical professional, humanitarian aid worker, or parent. As a mother, I never stop worrying about my daughter staying healthy and learning well. As a World Vision U.S. nutrition advisor, I also worry about the thousands of families around the world to whom I provide nutrition and breastfeeding support through our programs.
We are now in the midst of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which takes place August 1-7 every year to engage people to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing all I possibly can to get the message out that breastfeeding really is the best start a newborn can have.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of supporting a World Vision project in Ethiopia that specifically sought to improve breastfeeding practices. The two-year operations research project was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by a consortium led by FHI 360. We implemented a World Vision approach known as Timed and Targeted Counseling (ttC) so mothers received health messages at the appropriate time during their pregnancy and the child’s life.
In Ethiopia, peer mother volunteers made regular visits to the homes of pregnant and lactating mothers from their third trimester until the child was 10 months old. They conversed with mothers about breastfeeding, helped mothers overcome common breastfeeding problems, and encouraged family members to support mothers in breastfeeding.
On one of my project visits, a peer mother told me she had seen a woman giving birth on the side of the road while trying to get to the health clinic. A midwife arrived quickly to assist with the delivery and the peer mother immediately helped, getting the newborn to the breast and suckling. The benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding were not well known in this community, and it was actually common practice to delay breastfeeding until the placenta had been expelled. The peer mother explained to the mother that the suckling would actually help with uterine contractions and naturally assist her.
Everyone by the roadside that day was grateful to the peer mother.
Over the two years this project was implemented, I saw exclusive breastfeeding (when the infant receives only breastmilk for the first six months of life) rates increase from 57.9% to 82.8%. This is a pretty significant increase over such a short time, and means that mothers and children in those communities in Ethiopia are healthier.
However, what I think about most when I think of this project in Ethiopia—and the other projects I support—is how grateful I am to the breastfeeding protectors, promoters, and supporters who work with World Vision. Our organization couldn’t do our work without them, and I certainly could not do my work without them.
This World Breastfeeding Week, I’m hopeful that our efforts toward scaling up universal breastfeeding are being realized to prevent deaths, health complications, and economic losses—in short, to increase the well-being of children.
Kathryn Reider is the Senior Technical Advisor for nutrition for World Vision USA.
The first weeks of a newborn's life are the most critical. You can help save young lives by giving a new mother essentials like a bassinet, cloth diapers, blankets, and infant care training. Donate a New Mother and Baby Kit today!