Centre for International Health
Lancet Publication

Every child everywhere benefits from breastfeeding

21st Century women – in rich and poor countries alike – do not receive the support they need to breastfeed.


Main content

Breastfeeding plays a vital role in health and development. It has a multitude of positive benefits for both women and children. Below are some highlights from a new Lancet series about breastfeeding. Some researchers from the Centre for Intervention Science in Maternal and Child Health (CISMAC) are among the co-authors.


Benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the best preventive interventions for both mothers and their children, regardless of where they live.

  • Increasing breastfeeding to near universal levels could prevent more than 800,000 child deaths every year and 20000 women deaths from breast cancer.
  • Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than a third, about half of diarrhoea episodes and one third of respiratory infections in children.
  • Longer durations of BF compared to shorter durations were associated with a 13% reduction in overweight and obesity and an increase of 2.6 IQ points
  • Globally, not breastfeeding is associated with economic losses of about $302 billion annually, equivalent to 0·49% of world gross national income


Challenges and barriers

Breastfeeding is a collective responsibility. Despite a growing body of evidence, numerous daily challenges and barriers hinder or limit women from breastfeeding.

  • Limited or non-existent maternity leave
  • Lack of or limited family / community support
  • Substitute breastmilk marketing and lobby


Protect, promote, support, invest, improve

Mothers are 2.5 times more likely to breast feed in countries where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported through a combination of policies and programmes that:

  • Disseminate evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding
  • Provide support services
  • Foster and reinforce positive social attitudes
  • Build political will
  • Implement breastfeeding-friendly employment conditions and regulations
  • Regulate breastmilk substitutes marketing


Poorer countries closest to international recommendations

Fewer than one in five children in high-income countries (HICs) are breastfed for 12 months. Low and middle-income countries’ breastfeeding rates are significantly higher.  But sales of breastmilk substitutes are forecast to grow fast in these countries.  Taking steps now to protect and promote breastfeeding could avoid having these countries replicate the declining trends observed in HICs over recent decades.

Countries need to actively commit and drive progress towards doubling the rate of breastfeeding in their populations. A 50% increase in exclusive breastfeeding by 2025, as set by the 56th World Health Assembly in 2012, will significantly improve child and maternal health and impact the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030


Lancet publication

The Lancet is the world's leading independent general medical journal. The journal's coverage is international in focus and extends to all aspects of human health. In its aims and objectives, The Lancet invites contributors to the journal to deliver science for better health.

Jose Carlos Martines, the Scientific Coordinator of the CISMAC, a Centre of Excellence at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care and Centre for International Health, and Dr Nita Bhandari, the Director of the Centre for Health Research and Development, Society for Applied Studies, New Delhi, India, one of the CISMAC partners are two of the authors of a newly published paper in The Lancet entitled: Breastfeeding:  Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The paper is the second in a two-part series about breastfeeding.

Summarising the key points from this work, Martines says:

“Breastfeeding should become a key part of preventive programmes for non-communicable diseases for both children and women.  It will also bring benefits of prevention of morbidity and mortality from infections of early childhood, sudden infant deaths and cervical cancer. Beyond the health benefits, governments should take into consideration the economic gains produced by breastfeeding through increased intelligence, reduced health-care costs, and the benefits of breastfeeding to the environment when deciding to invest on the promotion and protection of breastfeeding.”


Read the paper