International Medical Corps is proud to mark World Breastfeeding Week, held the first week of August. Celebrated in more than 170 countries, the week promotes the importance of breastfeeding for infant nutrition and health.
Breastfeeding is the best way to give newborns the nutrients they need. Breast milk is highly nutritious with easy-to-digest proteins and natural immunities that protect babies against disease and infection. Colostrum, the milk that mothers produce in the first days after birth, is not only dense in nutrients, but is also rich in antibodies that protect babies from bacteria and viruses that cause infection.
While the short-term benefits of breastfeeding have been well-established, some studies also show long-term benefits, and research in this area is ongoing. Although we still have much to learn about the long-term effects of breastfeeding, there is good evidence that people who were breastfed perform better on intelligence tests and that breastfeeding offers some protection against breast and ovarian cancer in mothers. There is also some evidence that breastfeeding may reduce the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes; lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol; and reduce the risk of being overweight or obese by 12%.
How does breastfeeding improve nutrition and global health?
Both cost effective and ideal for child nutrition, breastfeeding is a vital first step in reducing undernutrition in children. Because of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that deaths of children younger than five years old would be reduced by 13 to 20 percent worldwide if babies were breastfed exclusively (i.e. no other food or drink) for the first six months of life and then up to two years or longer with complementary feeding starting at six months of age.
Does infant formula have the same impact?
No. Infant formula does not have the antibodies that breast milk does, and therefore does not provide the same protection against common childhood diseases. For those who do not have access to safe drinking water, formula is also linked to waterborne illness. Unlike breast milk, which is free, available on demand, and nutritious, formula can lead to malnutrition as food-insecure families often spread out rations so that supplies last longer.
In March 2011, International Medical Corps signed a joint statement with other non-governmental organizations and members of the international community that cautions against the donation and use of formula and breast milk substitutes in emergency settings. To read more about why we must support and protect breastfeeding and other infant and young children feeding practices during emergencies, and how formula donations can be harmful, click here.
How does International Medical Corps protect and promote breastfeeding?
International Medical Corps does not solicit or accept breast milk substitutes, bottles or teats. We work to increase the number of breastfed children by focusing on educating mothers, fathers, grandmothers, health workers and the community on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. We also emphasize the importance of appropriate, timely introduction to complementary feeding with continued breastfeeding after six months of age. In addition, International Medical Corps investigates the cultural barriers to infant and young child feeding practices (IYCF) and tries to address these barriers in a culturally-sensitive way. In many countries around the world, we offer nutritional support to malnourished pregnant and lactating women. International Medical Corps also helps mothers overcome chronic food insecurity through agriculture and livelihoods projects that allow them to grow their own food and earn their own income so that they keep themselves – and their children – healthy and strong. In addition, we integrate IYCF within our water, sanitation and hygiene and early childhood development programming.