1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Breastfeeding can prevent infant deaths - UNICEF

Nicole Goebel
May 10, 2018

Hundreds of thousands of babies could be saved each year if they received enough breast milk, UNICEF says. The world's richest countries have the lowest breastfeeding rates despite the benefits for baby and mother.

Nursing mother with baby
Image: Colourbox

More than 800,000 child deaths a year could be prevented by breastfeeding, according to a new report released Thursday by UN child protection unit UNICEF.

Stressing the benefits of nursing for both maternal and infant health, the report says babies are still more likely to be breastfed in developing countries than in the world's richest nations.

What the report says:

  • Improving breastfeeding rates around the world could save more than 820,000 children under the age of 5 every year, with the majority of those under 6 months of age
  • Worldwide, 7.6 million babies each year are never breastfed
  • Infants are more likely to be breastfed at least once in low and middle-income countries
  • Bhutan (99 percent), Madagascar (99 percent) and Peru (99 percent) have the highest nursing rates, Ireland (55 percent), the US (74 percent) and Spain (77 percent) have some of the lowest rates
  • Within developing countries, poorer mothers breastfeed longer, in developed countries, wealthy mothers are more likely to nurse longer
  • Breastfeeding boost babies' immune systems, supports brain development and is associated with a higher IQ
  • Nursing boosts maternal health - it can prevent post-partum hemmorrhage and protect against breast and ovarian cancers
  • It could prevent around 20,000 maternal deaths per year

Read more: African countries urged to support breastfeeding mothers

'The best gift'

"Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself," Shahida Azfar, UNICEF's deputy executive director, says.

"Breastfeeding boosts babies' immune systems, giving them a healthy start in life," UNICEF Executive Director Henerietta H. Fore tweeted.

Read more: Germany's fertility rate hits 43-year high

UN recommendations

UNICEF found the reasons for not breastfeeding, or not nursing for long, vary, but it stresses that granting paid parental leave, the right to breastfeed in the workplace and restrictions on promoting infant formula as "critical." 

It also urges hospitals to give mothers guidance on nursing and encourage women to start feeding within an hour of giving birth.

UNICEF stresses community support as another crucial factor, with "positive social norms" encouraging nursing in public spaces as well as support from fathers and other family members.

UNICEF recommends higher "funding and awareness to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through the age of two."