Breastfeeding: An essential path to optimal growth for infants

Breastfeeding is of great importance for the health and survival of children under six years old but global rates of exclusive breastfeeding fall short of World Health Organization recommendations. Less than half of infants worldwide receive exclusive breastfeeding during this critical period. Breast milk provides all the necessary energy and nutrients for infants, fulfilling over half of their nutritional requirements in the first year and up to one-third in the second year.
The benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond infancy. Breastfed children tend to perform better on intelligence tests, have a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes in later life, and their mothers experience a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers. However, the promotion of breast milk substitutes remains an obstacle to improving breastfeeding rates worldwide.
A significant issue contributing to low breastfeeding rates is the lack of essential maternity protections for working women. Shockingly, over half a billion working women worldwide lack access to necessary support in national laws. Only 20 per cent of countries mandate employers to provide paid breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk.
In an effort to address these challenges, World Breastfeeding Week’s theme, “Let’s make breastfeeding at work, work,” highlights the importance of greater support for breastfeeding in all workplaces. Progress has been made in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates over the past decade, rising by 10 percentage points to 48 per cent globally.
Family-friendly workplace policies have proven beneficial for working women, their families, and employers. These policies lead to economic returns by reducing maternity-related absenteeism, retaining female workers, and cutting hiring and training costs.
World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated every August, honours the dedication of breastfeeding mothers who play a key role in nurturing the next generation. Breastfeeding remains the ultimate child survival and development intervention, protecting infants from common infectious diseases, strengthening their immune systems, and providing essential nutrients for optimal growth and development. Exclusive breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of infant mortality.
Breastfeeding mothers deserve admiration for their selflessness and sacrifice. They juggle earning incomes and nurturing their children while prioritizing their families over personal interests. Their dedication shapes future generations with a positive impact on the world.
To achieve the global target of 70 per cent exclusive breastfeeding by 2030 and enhance child survival and development outcomes, it is crucial to ensure access to maternity protections and encourage breastfeeding support at work. Hence, all walks of life must collaborate to create an enabling environment to support breastfeeding mothers, leading to brighter and healthier futures for the world’s children.

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