“Breastfeeding is directly linked to reducing the death toll of children under five.” This is the crux of the United Nations campaign to encourage breast feeding around the world. Despite this fact, only 36 percent of babies under age six months are exclusively breast fed—despite the health benefits and the cost. These facts combine to make breastfeeding a top priority of the UN and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“With so much at stake, we need to do more to reach women with a simple, powerful message: Breastfeeding can save your baby’s life,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake during World Breastfeeding Week in August 2011.
There are many examples of the backwardness of this world we live in. One of them is that women choose to purchase expensive, powdered concoctions to feed their babies when they have the most perfect food within them (not to mention that it’s free!).
If all mothers globally began solely breastfeeding their babies, it could reduce the death rate for children under five by 13 percent. This is remarkable.
Breast milk doesn’t only keep a baby from going hungry, it ensures proper nourishment, giving a baby everything it needs for nearly the first year of life. In developing countries, in particular, this means less incidence of malnourishment. Also, the compounds in breast milk are crucial in feeding a healthy immune system, setting a child up to successfully fight infections and disease throughout their childhood.
Millions of children are not being breastfed. And there are many reasons for this. For one, low income mothers in developed nations are often provided formula free of charge. Likewise, in developing countries, the poorest families can often get access to formula. And mothers opt for this choice because we’ve seen breasts go from nature’s perfect sustainer of life to an object of sexualization within the last century.
Now, to get mothers back to the feeding their babies the way it was intended, it will take a global push.
“Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is important because, even though breastfeeding is natural, it is also a learned behavior,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health.
How can you help? If you’re a mother or expecting, learn all you can about the benefits of breastfeeding. If you’re not, support mothers who choose to breastfeed and help raise awareness that this complete natural activity is not gross, sexy, or something to be ashamed of.