Breastfeeding Could Save So Many Lives, But There’s a Problem

What if there was one thing that could prevent death, improve health, and boost the economy? Breastfeeding is that thing, according to researchers. We’re talking about 820,000 deaths prevented each year, and a savings to the global economy of $300 billion. That is, if we could lift breastfeeding rates, especially in high-income countries like the US and the UK.

The first of a two-part paper is published in The Lancet. This is what the researchers found:

Breastfeeding Benefits Families

About 820,000 child deaths could be prevented annually (87% would be infants under 6 months old) by improving breastfeeding rates. That’s in addition to the lives already saved by current breastfeeding practices.

In high-income countries, breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than a third.

In low-and middle-income countries, about half of all diarrhea episodes and a third of respiratory infections could be avoided by breastfeeding.

Children who are breastfed longer:

  • gain some protection against obesity and diabetes later in life
  • have fewer dental malocclusions
  • tend to have higher intelligence

For mothers, longer-duration breastfeeding:

  • reduces the risks of type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer — about 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented each year by breastfeeding — improved rates could prevent another 20,000 deaths each year
  • improves birth spacing

Breastfeeding Benefits Economies

The costs of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding add up to more than $300 billion a year.

Boosting breastfeeding rates for infants below 6 months of age to 90% in the USA, China, and Brazil and to 45% in the UK would cut treatment costs of common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea and asthma. It would save healthcare systems at least $2.45 billion (US) in the USA, $29.5 million (US) in the UK, $223.6 million (US) in China, and $6.0 million (US) in Brazil.

There Are Too Many Obstacles To Breastfeeding

Maternity leave is extremely limited or nonexistent in the US, significantly increasing the odds that a mother won’t continue to breastfeed.

There is a lack of information and support from healthcare providers.

There is a lack of family and community support.

A Lancet editorial asks, “Despite consolidation of evidence for breastfeeding’s benefits in recent years, in particular the economic gains to be reaped, global action has stalled. Why has so little progress been made?”

It goes on to say the obstacles mothers face are not trivial, and “genuine and urgent commitment is needed from governments and health authorities to establish a new normal: where every woman can expect to breastfeed, and to receive every support she needs to do so.”

For more information about the research, visit The Lancet Breastfeeding Series and Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect.

My Two Cents

To breastfeed or not to breastfeed is a personal decision. Some mothers would rather not, and that’s their business. Others cannot, for a variety of reasons. There’s no shame in breastfeeding or in not breastfeeding, or at least there shouldn’t be.

Breastfeeding is good for babies, moms, and the bottom line. Unfortunately, our culture is still reluctant to accept breastfeeding as a natural part of everyday life. It’s mind boggling, really, that something this good should be so difficult.

Take Action

Put pressure on lawmakers to make paid maternity leave available for all working mothers by signing this Care2 petition.

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Photo: Purestock/Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago


Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn3 years ago

i think more wet-nurses would be highly beneficail, i found breastfeeding very painful for first 2 minutes of each feed and soon after i had to take medicine which is not safe for little babies so that is why i stopped breastfeeding........and many women have similar kind of stories....more wet-nurses would give babies the benefits of breastmilk without the pain and chemicals form medicines in breastmilk ....some women find manual expressing of breastmilk not at all uncomfortable but are in agony using electric pump or breastfeeding, i think manual expressing is good, it is ofcourse breastmilk so it is good and if you want to bond with the skin to skin benefits you can hold your baby on your breast

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn3 years ago

we need a petition to make legislation for workplaces to always allow for breastfeeding if thats what the mother wants to do......expect in workplaces where their is food or it's impractiable

Iskrica Kneževi?

thank you

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

In private only, please!

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

Petition signed! Thanks for posting.

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you mum

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago