New Lancet Series: Breastfeeding

The Lancet, Published: January 28, 2016

“With a substantial development of research and findings for breastfeeding over the past three decades, we are now able to expand on the health benefits for both women and chidren across the globe. The two papers in this Series will describe past and current global trends of breastfeeding, its short and long-term health consequences for the mother and child, the impact of investment in breastfeeding, and the determinants of breastfeeding and the effectiveness of promotion interventions.”

The web page above includes an audio podcast where Cesar Victora discusses new data highlighting the health benefits and promotion priorities for breastfeeding worldwide. Cesar was one of the authors of a game-changing 1987 Lancet paper that showed the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. Since then breastfeeding has been shown to have benefits for children not only in infancy but also for their lifetime, and benefits for mothers too (including reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer). Breast milk has been described as ‘exquisite, personalised medicine’ – something that could never be imitated by formula feeding. The 50 researchers prepared 28 meta-analyses over 2 years for the current Series. Breasfeeding is more prevalent in LMICs than in HICs and is increasing, currently about 40% in LMICs. The figures show that infants who have exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months has ‘seven times lower mortality than one not [exclusively] breastfed’. How better to promote breastfeeding? “It is a societal issue not an individual mother issue.” Infant formula companies continue to make things difficult by providing free samples to mothers. Need more supportive work environments and more support/understanding from health workers. The authors call for action: Everybody needs breast milk and we should do more to promote it. More funding is needed. “We want to put breasfeeding back near the top of the health agenda.”

One of the papers in the series ‘Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices?’ has the following key messages:

– The world is still not a supportive and enabling environment for most women who want to breastfeed.

– Countries can rapidly improve breastfeeding practices by scaling up known interventions, policies, and programmes.

– Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman — the promotion of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility.

– The breastmilk substitute industry is large and growing, and its marketing undermines efforts to improve breastfeeding.

– The health and economic costs of suboptimal breastfeeding are largely unrecognised. Investments to promote breastfeeding, in both rich and poor settings, need to be measured against the cost of not doing so.

– Political support and financial investment are needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding to realise its advantages to children, women, and society.

Best wishes, Neil

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