Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development

July 27, 2016

Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. It is also key to sustainable development. That’s why we are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 – 7, which highlights the importance of breastfeeding to global health and development. World Breastfeeding Week is a time to galvanize a variety of actions and engage with a wide range of actors around the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development” is the theme for 2016’s World Breastfeeding Week, underscoring the role it plays in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that governments around the world have agreed to achieve by 2030.

Breastfeeding lays the foundation for good health for all children both in the short and long term, while also benefiting mothers. New evidence confirms that optimal breastfeeding could save 823,000 child lives from acute and chronic disease, save 20,000 mother lives from breast cancer and add $302 billion to the global economy annually.

However, global breastfeeding rates have remained stagnant for the past two decades. Less than 40% of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed. In fact, women face many barriers to breastfeeding including receiving inaccurate information from health providers, a lack of lactation support from male partners within the household, and little or no access to skilled breastfeeding counselling.

Breastfeeding is linked to the SDGS. Indeed, The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) shows four thematic areas which have the strongest links to breastfeeding: Nutrition, Food Security and Poverty Reduction; Survival, Health and Wellbeing; Environment and Climate Change; and Women’s Productivity and Employment.

The Hunger Project is a strong advocate of approaches that support the realization of the full potential 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.

Often, the reason for insufficient breastfeeding is due to the mother’s own youth and lack of knowledge on the subject of nutrition. In many developing countries, girls traditionally eat last and least. A young, malnourished woman gives birth to a low-birth weight baby, who, already affected by the malnourishment and lack of resources of her mother, suffers from an impaired immune system. This nutritionally deficient baby has reduced muscle strength, is stunted and becomes a low-weight and height teenager who, in turn, becomes a young, malnourished woman, married too young – starting the Cycle of Malnutrition all over again.

Across our programs, we’re making breastfeeding and good nutrition 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 pre- and postnatal care. In 2015, over 26,000 women accessed antenatal care services and 187,163 children were monitored for health and weight at our epicenter clinics in Africa.

Last year, The Hunger Project-Benin participated in a working group to help advocate for laws that favor exclusive breastfeeding. At The Hunger Project-Mozambique, programs focus on empowering women so they can put the nutrition and health of themselves and their families in their own hands. The Hunger Project-Malawi launched a 1,000 Days Initiative in which they train mother-to-mother (M2M) support groups on safe motherhood, breastfeeding and nutrition. In Bangladesh, over 22,000 women have been trained in 1,000 Days Nutrition since 2008 through courtyard meetings hosted by women leaders in each union. Mexico has held 12 campaigns, conferences, panel discussions and public events centered around the 1,000 Days Initiative. In India, elected women’s representatives (EWRs) advocate for all castes to have access to government centers or maternal health clinics.

From August 1st through 7th, lend your voice to the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding as a means towards achieving sustainable development. Make it known that you are aware of the daily, institutionalized obstacles mothers face in providing adequate nutrition and care to their children and themselves. Unless women, girls, men, and boys fully acknowledge the significance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, advancement towards the achievement of the UN SDGs will fall short.


Learn More:

Issue: Gender Discrimination

The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The World Breastfeeding Week Official Website

World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action

The 2016 Global Nutrition Report