How Breastfeeding Benefits Society

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated February 23, 2013.

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iStock_000020519032XSmallThat breastfeeding is healthy, saves lives, and has benefits for both mother and baby are well-known.  At the same time breastfeeding benefits society and our world in many profound ways:

  • Breastfeeding is the single greatest way to prevent childhood deaths due to illness around the world.
  • Babies who are able to begin breastfeeding within an hour after birth are more than three times as likely to survive as one breastfed a day later.
  • 830,000 childhood deaths could be prevented each year if breastfeeding were initiated for every baby following birth.1
  • Babies who are not exclusively breastfed have significantly higher rates of diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, ear infections, allergies, asthma, eczema, gastrointestinal disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, childhood cancers, and much more.

And yet, worldwide, two out of every three children are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.2

Did you know the formula industry is worth $25 billion?3  Imagine if that amount of money could be spent worldwide on breastfeeding.  Imagine if every woman received information about the incredible importance of breastfeeding her baby while pregnant, and then the support she needs after having her baby to successfully breastfeed.

Imagine if every healthcare worker were informed about the single greatest super-food in the world – breast milk – and helped to encourage and support women in their care not to give up.  Imagine if societies understood how having healthy babies and then, as these children grew, healthier adults would benefit their country’s economy.

This incredible economic impact cannot be overestimated.  In the US alone, human milk as part of the gross domestic product is valued at more than $110 billion/year, but two thirds of this amount is lost because moms are forced to wean their babies prematurely. 4  Millions upon millions of dollars would be saved annually on healthcare costs as formula feeding has lifelong negative health impacts.

But this would also require supporting women who breastfeed, including tearing down barriers to breastfeeding in public, having adequate maternity leave for all women, and then employer support of continued breastfeeding/pumping after returning to work.  It would pay for itself, of course, and then some.

Yes, the simple act of breastfeeding, the special and loving bond between a mother and her baby, does have a profound impact on society.  Let’s tear down the barriers and make sure everything in our culture that can be done to support breastfeeding mothers is done.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Save the Children Fund (2013) Superfood for babies how overcoming barriers to breastfeeding will save children’s lives http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/Superfood_for_Babies_UK_version.pdf
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid
  4. Smith, JP. (2013) “Lost Milk?” Counting the Economic Value of Breast Milk in Gross Domestic Product. Journal of Human Lactation. 12 July 2013.
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