September 16, 2016

Breastfeeding and the Sustainable Development Goals

Written by Mia Ydholm

This post originally appeared on Girls’ Globe. Reposted with permission.

Breastfeeding image by UNICEF

Breastfeeding is an essential part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and can be mirrored in not only the most obvious ones – like Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-being but in many (if not all) of the other goals. Its impact and benefit for the baby, mother and thus society as a whole might not be the main target of the goal, but indirectly many linkages can be recognized.

Breast milk is, and always has been free. The costs for formula on the other hand, can have huge impact on a household’s budget. Our babies don’t need anything else – not even water – for the first six months of their lives, if they are exclusively breastfed (of course, there are always exceptions to the rule). With adequate information and support, nearly all mothers can breastfeed their children, no matter their financial situation. What an amazing, effective and inexpensive intervention in the battle to end poverty!

Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-Being are essential goals towards global sustainability and equality, and they include plenty. Increased rates of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) is such an important step towards these goals, since breast milk will always be accessible, available and give the best nutrition possible for children. UNICEF recognizes that the greatest potential impact on child survival of allpreventive interventions is optimal breastfeeding of infants under the age of two. Also, in terms of food safety, EBF protects children from infectious diseases by decreasing their exposure to water and food borne pathogens, and improves infant resistance towards infections. In the end, fewer children will suffer from for example diarrhoeal diseases, which is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five.

The health benefits for mothers include lowered risk for certain cancers, osteoporosis and post-natal depression, just to mention a few. Breastfeeding is vitalin both preventing and treating diseases, in the short and long run, both for children and their mothers. 800 000 lives per year could be saved by breastfeeding interventions!

Breastfeeding offers so many benefits both for children and mothers, and it is a human right directly connected to the right to food and health. It is part of a woman’s sexual and reproductive health, and can be such a unique emotional and empowering experience if adequate, unbiased information and support is given. WABA recognizes several globally spreading determinants – such as dominant structures, institutions and social values – that both undervalue and put women’s physical needs at risk, as well as their reproductive and productive contributions. Protection, facilitation, encouragement and (in the end) increased rates of breastfeeding is imperative to reach gender equality.

Optimal breastfeeding is, and encompasses so incredibly much and this needs to be recognized and prioritized when national governments develop their action plans to achieve the global goals. It improves health outcomes for children and mothers, reduces poverty, increases gender equality, saves our planet’s resources by decreasing the use of plastic bottles, contributes to more sustainable consumption, contributes to higher IQs and thus educational attainment, and most importantly: it saves lives.

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