August begins with one of my favorite health celebrations: World Breastfeeding Week. Underscoring the incredible health links between mothers and babies, this global event is close to our hearts and our mission at MCSP, where we’re working to end preventable child and maternal deaths in a generation.
For newborns, exclusive breastfeeding prevents malnutrition and defends against infection; for mothers, it reduces blood loss after birth and helps delay subsequent pregnancies. Moreover, links between breastfeeding and poverty reduction mean better outcomes for the entire family. The practice saves families time and money, while breastfeeding-friendly workplaces see less staff absenteeism, a more stable workforce, and improved morale.
Yet, despite these demonstrated links, many infants under 6 months in the world’s poorest countries are given food and liquids other than breastmilk.
As the global health community convenes this month in Ethiopia for the fourth Acting on the Call conference, we’ll discuss the successes to date, and also take stock of who is currently not being reached with services and why. We must stay vigilant in addressing barriers and supporting women to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months and, ideally, until age two. Doing so can avert 13% of deaths in children under five in the developing world.
Revitalizing family planning and nutrition services, as MCSP is doing in Tanzania, also reinforces the importance of addressing women’s and children’s holistic health needs, reducing missed opportunities for care. Together, we can build the happier, healthier world we want for our mothers, newborns and children.
Koki Agarwal, MD, MPH, DrPH