Breastfeeding provides the foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing. Early and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is one of the most important nutritional determinants for child survival. Among the numerous benefits for mothers and babies are:
- Breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia (WHO)
- Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer (WHO)
- Breastfeeding has been associated with higher intelligence quotient (IQ) in children (WHO)
Despite this evidence, investment in a child’s first 1,000 days (birth to the second birthday) is not given the needed priority in many societies. According to the World Health Assembly (WHO), only 40% of children younger than 6 months are breastfed exclusively.
As World Breastfeeding Week comes to a close, we face the reality that many women across countries do not meet the accepted nutritional guidelines for breastfeeding due to culturally-institutionalized barriers. We need to do more to change this. In Nigeria, I spoke with expectant and nursing mothers about breastfeeding. Some expressed concerns about its effectiveness, showing more must be done to educate and support women. To do this, stakeholders and country-level government must sustain efforts, ignited by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to promote maternal and newborn health, as well as reproductive health and rights.
Alongside government efforts, we all have a part to play, beyond just this past week, in transforming our respective communities and office spaces into an enabling environment that properly supports encourage, and upholds breastfeeding mothers. Women’s partners and relatives, the media, religious and traditional leaders, and youth advocates all need to work together to show support for nursing mothers and help normalize breastfeeding. These children are our future and we need to give them the best start in life.
Written by Isaac Ejakhegbe and first appear on Women Deliver.