The Hunger Project Celebrates World Breastfeeding Week 2019

August 1, 2019

Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. Encouraging breastfeeding 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. World Breastfeeding Week is a time to galvanize 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 and promotes various measures to ensure the safety of mothers and their infants to experience optimal 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 organizations for greater impact, and Galvanise action on gender-equitable parental social protection to advance breastfeeding.  

Women have the right to make decisions about their bodies with accurate information, free from fear, societal pressures and discrimination, including whether to breastfeed 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 crucial to achieving gender equality and economic independence.

                 Photo by Rebke Klokke

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, has long-term health benefits for women, yields economic benefits and enhances the wellbeing of all. 

Breastfeeding 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, a positive signal that grassroots awareness campaigns and interventions are working. Estimates of exclusive breastfeeding 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, because of 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 counseling. Healthcare systems must provide appropriate support, education and counseling for individuals and families to promote breastfeeding, 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. 

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 immunizations, maternal nutrition trainings, or other services like health check-ups throughout pregnancy. 

Header Photo by Johannes Odé

What You Can Do

Key Facts

  • In 2018, Africa and Asia — despite having the highest rates of undernutrition — had the highest prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding, a positive signal that grassroots awareness campaigns and interventions are working.
  • Globally, 41 percent of infants under six months were exclusively breastfed in 2018 compared with 36 percent of infants in 2012. 
  • Breastfeeding supports infants’ immune systems and reduces mothers’ risk of certain types of cancer (breast and ovarian) and other health conditions (type II diabetes and postpartum depression). 
  • Improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of 823,000 children under age five each year, the majority of whom are under six months of age. 
  • Ideally, infants should be breastfed within one hour of birth, breast-fed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue to be breastfed up to 2 years of age. This is critical to newborn survival and establishing breastfeeding over the long term.
  • Studies have shown that newborns who began breastfeeding between 2 and 23 hours after birth had a 33% greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth. For infants who began 24 hours or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high.
  • Infant formula does not contain antibodies found in breast milk, and therefore it cannot replicate the long-term benefits of breastfeeding. Additionally, when infant formula is prepared with unsafe water or unsterilized equipment, infants are exposed to potentially harmful bacteria, leading to deadly infections. 
  • Infants in food-insecure households are at a higher risk of not being exclusively breastfed.
  • Breastfeeding takes the support of whole communities. Health facilities must support breastfeeding by avoiding practices like separation of mother and baby, use of newborn nurseries, and supplementation with infant formula.

Learn More

The Hunger Project

1,000 Days

World Breastfeeding Week

Academy Breastfeeding Medicine

The International Baby Food Action Network, IBFAN

The World Health Organization (WHO)