Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. It enables gender equality while also contributing to the sustainable end of world hunger and poverty. However, many mothers globally face cultural stigma against early breastfeeding, or do not have access to information about infant nutrition. This is why The Hunger Project is proud to join in the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week from August 1-7, 2019. It’s a time to galvanise a variety of actions and engage with a wide range of communities around the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding. It focuses on ensuring that women receive the necessary support and health care before, during and after childbirth. It also promotes various measures to ensure the safety of mothers and their infants to experience optimal breastfeeding.
Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding
The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has divided the goals of World Breastfeeding Week 2019 into four categories:
- Inform people about the links between gender-equitable parental social protection and breastfeeding.
- Anchor parent-friendly values and gender-equitable social norms at all levels to support breastfeeding.
- Engage with individuals and organisations for greater impact.
- Galvanise action on gender-equitable parental social protection to advance breastfeeding.
Women have the right to make decisions about their bodies, free from fear, with accurate information and no societal pressures or discrimination. They have the right to choose whether they breastfeed or not, and for how long. Breastfeeding delays the return of the menstrual cycle, thus helping with birth spacing and ensuring reproductive autonomy. Combined with provision of adequate health services and information, this can help support women to pursue their education and jobs outside the home. Both are crucial to achieving gender equality and economic independence
Evidence on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and adequate complementary foods and feeding practices up to two years of age is abundant. This combination aids the survival of infants and helps them thrive. It has long-term health benefits for women, yields economic benefits and enhances the wellbeing of all.
It lays the foundation for good health for all children both in the short and long term, while also benefiting mothers. Infants who are exclusively breastfed are at a distinct advantage, both being much more likely to survive those critical first few months of life and less susceptible to life-threatening conditions throughout their lives such as respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, urinary tract infections, obesity, asthma, and diabetes. In 2018, it was estimated that optimal breastfeeding could save 823,000 child lives from acute and chronic disease and add $340 billion to the global economy annually.
In 2018, Africa and Asia — despite having the highest rates of undernutrition — had the highest prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding. This is a positive signal that grassroots awareness campaigns and interventions are working. Estimates also reveal progress at the global level, with 41 percent of infants under six months being exclusively breastfed in 2018 compared with 36 percent of infants in 2012. This directly correlates to the decreasing global prevalence of stunting among children under five years of age. The number of stunted children globally has decreased from 165.8 million in 2012 to 148.9 million in 2018, representing a 10 percent decline over a six-year period.
Despite this progress, many women globally still face barriers to early breastfeeding. This is, in part, due to receiving inaccurate information from health providers, a lack of lactation support from male partners within the household, pressure to return to work, and little or no access to skilled breastfeeding counselling. Healthcare systems must provide appropriate support, education and counselling for individuals and families, starting with supportive policies in hospital. Initiatives to promote and protect breastfeeding protect against stunting and wasting in childhood, reduce the risk of disease and obesity later in life, and help ensure maternal health in the postpartum period.
The Hunger Project is a strong advocate of approaches that support the health and wellbeing of all women and children. The first step in doing so is ensuring adequate nutrition, protection of rights and gender equality. Many cases of infant malnourishment, which contributes to more than one-third of global child deaths per year, can be solved by simply ensuring exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life.
Across our programs, breastfeeding and good nutrition are a priority. In our epicenters across Africa, tens of thousands of women attend workshops in which health care professionals explain the basics of nutrition for both children and mothers and the importance of ante- and postnatal care. In 2018, over 21,000 women accessed antenatal care services and over 77,000 children were monitored for health and weight at our epicenter clinics in Africa. Also in 2018, nearly 5,000 families in Bangladesh accessed maternal immunisations, maternal nutrition trainings, or other services like health check-ups throughout pregnancy.
To find out more about how you can help empower women to end hunger, check out our Unleashed campaign here.