This week, mothers and advocates across the world – from Singapore
– are taking action to promote and celebrate the extraordinary benefits of
breastfeeding as part of World
When it comes to breastfeeding, there is much to celebrate. Early
initiation of breastfeeding (within the first hour of birth), followed by
exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued breast feeding for 24 months
and beyond, has lifelong benefits for children. In fact, it is one of the smartest
investments we can make in child survival and development, with the potential
to save 800,000 children’s lives annually and provide increased immunity and
nutrition to millions more.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week comes at a particularly important
time, with world leaders set to enter into the final year of negotiations
around the post-2015 framework next month at the United Nations General
As a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will
expire at the end of 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will serve
as our next roadmap for fighting poverty and disease globally. Since 2000, the MDGs
have rallied action and leveraged additional resources to tackle poverty and
disease, and have provided us with a global framework to track and evaluate our
progress. The post-2015 goals stand to play an equally powerful role in
steering the global health and development agenda over the next 15 years.
Earlier this year, the foundation called for sustainable
agriculture, food security, and nutrition to be prioritized within the
post-2015 goals. We were encouraged to see
that the recently finalized Outcome
Document from the Open Working Group mentions nutrition and stunting – but the
omission of breastfeeding is a serious shortcoming. As the post-2015 goals discussions move forward next month, it is critical that world leaders add
breastfeeding to the agenda and include an
indicator to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months
to reach 60 percent by 2030.
Inluding breastfeeding in the post-2015 framework will serve as
widespread acknowledgement of the vital role it plays in the broader food
security agenda, and will further highlight breastfeeding as a key to unlocking
progress towards many of the other goals and targets being discussed within the
post-2015 goals (including the prevention of newborn deaths, as this
brochure from WHO and UNICEF details).
Most importantly, securing a place for breastfeeding within the
post-2015 goals will ensure that it continues to be a priority over the next 15
years. While the practice of breastfeeding is as old as humanity itself,
evidence shows that increasing rates takes dedicated support and action. In
many countries, mothers face significant barriers to breastfeeding – including a
lack of awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, a lack of access to
counseling on how to breastfeed, and restrictions on time at home with their
newborns. As a result, the global average for exclusive breastfeeding was estimated to be just 37 percent during
2006-2010 (the latest year for which we have available data).
We know that these barriers can be overcome. In Viet Nam, for example, the
Thrive initiative found that many mothers were not exclusively breastfeeding in their
babies’ first 6 months because they needed to return to work or had come across
misinformation about infant feeding. Alive & Thrive engaged local
advocates, medical professionals, and health leaders to reverse this trend
through an integrated communications and advocacy campaign. This engagement quickly
led to higher rates of counseling for new mothers, and a vote by the Vietnamese
government to extend paid
maternity leave to six months. As a result, breastfeeding rates tripled
in program areas – increasing from 19-63 percent.
Through programs and policies tailored to meet local needs and
opportunities, we know these results can be replicated in other countries
around the world. Data from the initial phase of Alive & Thrive is now
informing the expansion of efforts to additional countries in Africa and South
Setting an ambitious yet achievable global target for exclusive
breastfeeding rates of 60 percent in the post-2015 goals will help rally the
global momentum needed to achieve even more local victories.
This World Breastfeeding Week, let’s set our sights on that goal – and
give ourselves even more to celebrate next year.