Improving the rate of breastfeeding worldwide could prevent about 820,000 child deaths and also save more than €275billion a year in health costs.
The financial figure is comparable to the entire global pharmaceutical market.
An in-depth Breastfeeding Series, published in The Lancet medical journal says the 820,000 child deaths could be prevented each year “by improving breastfeeding rates in addition to the lives already saved by current breastfeeding practices.
Ireland’s rate for mothers breastfeeding is among some of the lowest in the world. At 12 months just 2pc of babies are still being breastfed here.
The Series says:
- Promoting breastfeeding would save about 820,000 child lives a year – 87 percent of them infants under six months of age.
- Nearly half of all diarrhea episodes and one-third of all respiratory infections would be prevented with breastfeeding.
- For each of the first two years a mother breastfeeds over her lifetime, she decreases her risk of developing invasive breast cancer by six percent. She also benefits from reduced ovarian cancer risk.
- Approximately 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented each year by breastfeeding; improved rates could prevent another 20,000 deaths each year.
- Breastfeeding is one of the few positive health-related behaviors that is more common in poor rather than rich countries. In the absence of breastfeeding, the poor-rich gap in child survival would be even greater.
The findings come from the largest and most detailed analysis to quantify levels, trends, and benefits of breastfeeding around the world.
“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth”, says Professor Cesar Victora of the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil and co-lead of the study.
“Our work for this Series clearly shows that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike.
“Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever.”
Despite international recommendations that all children should be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months of age, these rates globally are only at 35.7 percent.
The World Health Assembly’s global target is for countries to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life to at least 50 percent by 2025.
Health cost savings
The authors of the study calculate that lower cognition rates in babies who are not breastfed reached about €275 billion in 2012 equivalent to 0.49pc of world gross national income.
They calculated that in the UK alone €204million could be saved each year in treatment costs for common childhood illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea and asthma if children were breastfeed to the age of six months.
“Supporting breastfeeding makes economic sense for rich and poor countries and this latest breastfeeding study proves it,” says Prof Victora.
“Breastfeeding is a powerful and unique intervention that benefits mothers and children, yet breastfeeding rates are not improving as we would like them to–and in some countries, are declining.
“We hope the scientific evidence amassed in this Series will help revert these negative trends and create a healthier society for everyone–mother, child, poor and rich.”