Breastfeeding is scientifically proven to provide health benefits to both mother and baby, so why aren't more women doing it?
A two-part comprehensive report published in the medical journal, The Lancet, provided a detailed analysis of the existing research on breastfeeding around the world. More than 1,300 studies were reviewed, focusing on levels, trends and benefits of breastfeeding, according to CNN News.
Based on the findings, just 1 in 5 children in high-income countries are breastfed to 12 months, while 1 in 3 children in low and middle-income families are exclusively breastfed for 6 months. As a result, millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits that breastfeeding provides.
To put things into perspective, if every woman breastfed, over 800,000 children's lives could be saved, preventing 13 percent of all deaths under the age of five.
Additionally, breastfeeding on a universal level could prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.
The author of the study, Cesar Victora, professor at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said in a statement that the new findings show "breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever," according to CBS.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The findings of the study indicate that in high-income families, breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death by more than one-third.
Similarly, in low- and middle-income countries, breastfeeding could reduce about half of all diarrhea illnesses and a third of respiratory infections. Furthermore, breastfeeding also increases intelligence and might help protect children against obesity and diabetes later on in life, according to CBS.
As for the mothers, breastfeeding could also help protect against ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.
From here, it starts with increasing education on the power of women's breasts and getting society as a whole comfortable with the idea that women should breastfeed. Based on the research, additional support from health care providers and shifts in attitude about the idea of breastfeeding are necessary.
Challenges of Breastfeeding
Although there are known benefits to breastfeeding, the difficult part is getting all women to actually breastfeed their babies long-term. The problem is that working women don't have the time to breastfeed their babies.
If women only get a certain amount of time off for maternity leave, it's usually not enough time for the baby and mother to get the full benefits that breastfeeding could provide. Once the women actually get back to work, their breast milk levels go down because they aren't able to breast feed or pump every few hours.
Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York, discussed the matter with CBS, addressing that there is no simple solution to the problem. However, she hopes workplace policies will improve and hospitals will offer better support and guidance to new mothers.
"It goes a long way toward preventing childhood illnesses, but in many of the developed countries, women are a large part of the workforce," Wu told CBS.
While breastfeeding does provide benefits to the mother and baby, it should be reminded that breastfeeding is only a part of the puzzle. Keeping a balanced diet, getting quality sleep, exercising regularly, and having a stable environment all play a part in the overall health of mother and baby at the end of the day.