Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

5 Reasons Why Breastfeeding Matters

July 29, 2014

Did you know that breastfeeding rates have stalled at around 40 percent worldwide or only one in three infants less than six months of age is exclusively breastfed?

These statistics may be hard to believe especially given how beneficial breastfeeding is to the survival and health of newborns and children, but they are accurate and need to be dramatically improved for the sake of the health of newborns and children the world over.

Through August 7, World Breastfeeding Week will be recognized by breastfeeding advocates, parents, experts, and global health organizations with the theme: Breastfeeding:  A Winning Goal – for Life! This year’s theme highlights the critical importance of breastfeeding to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG #4 that set a goal of decreasing child mortality by two-thirds by the end of 2015.

                                                                             (Photo courtesy of Paolo Patruno)

Why Does Breastfeeding Matter?

  1. Breastfeeding Saves More Newborns: Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth will save the lives of over 800,000 newborns according to data from a 2013 Save the Children report: Superfood for Babies: How Overcoming Barriers to Breastfeeding Will Save Children’s Lives.  Hundreds of thousands of newborn deaths could be wholly prevented if breastfeeding is initiated within the crucial first hour after delivery when colostrum is produced by mothers for their newborns’ fragile immune systems.
  2. Breastfeeding Protects Against Disease: Breastfeeding reduces the chances that babies will die of pneumonia or diarrhea, two of the leading causes of deaths in children under the age of five.
  3. Breastfeeding Prevents Malnutrition and Wasting: Did you know that breastfeeding provides essential vitamins and minerals that keep babies and children healthy throughout their lives? It also reduces the chances of a child becoming malnourished or wasted.
  4. Exclusive Breastfeeding Can Prevent Close Pregnancies: When mothers exclusively breastfeed they have a reduced chance of becoming pregnant again within six months of their previous deliveries. While this is not fail-safe the World Health Organization says breastfeeding provides 98 percent birth control protection during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
  5. Breastfeeding Makes Women Healthier: The World Health Organization says women who breastfeed have a reduced chance of contracting ovarian and breast cancer. Breastfeeding also helps a woman return back to her pre-pregnancy weight faster and reduces her risk of obesity.

The World Health Assembly set a goal in 2012 to achieve at least a 50% exclusive breastfeeding rate globally by 2025.  In order to achieve that, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding must grow across all regions by at least 2.5 percent each year. The current rate of growth is only 1.8 percent.

One way to achieve this is through a consistent emphasis on the benefits of breastfeeding across the globe. That is why in its 22nd year, World Breastfeeding Week continues to be crucial to the global breastfeeding movement.

                                                                       (Photo courtesy of Paolo Patruno)

How Can You Get Involved in World Breastfeeding Week?

Events are being held through August 7 in over 170 countries. Find an event near you on the World Breastfeeding Week’s pledges page.

All photos are courtesy of Paolo Patruno. His photos about maternal and newborn health in sub-Saharan Africa can be seen at

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