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If women breastfed longer, 820,000 babies could be saved

Babies should breast-feed exclusively until 6-months-old and continue to nurse until 2-years-old, according to a massive study.Dmytro Vietrov/Getty/iStock

Babies should breast-feed exclusively until 6-months-old and continue to nurse until 2-years-old, according to a massive study.

If all women breast-fed their babies longer, 820,000 babies a year and 20,000 women would not die.

These striking estimates are from a report 18 months in the making and which UNICEF is presenting to its 190 partner countries this week.

An international group of researchers studied some 1,300 reports, including 22 commissioned specifically for this mega study. Babies, who often die from diarrhea and respiratory infections, and women, who die from breast cancer, could be saved if all women continued to nurse their babies until at least 2-years-old.

“Not breast-feeding is associated with lower intelligence and economic losses of about $ 302 billion annually or 0·49% of world gross national income,” the report says.

The main recommendations are:

* Babies should be breast-fed within one hour of birth.

* Babies should be breast-fed exclusively for six months.

* Babies should continue to breast-feed, with supplemented solid food, until at least 2-years-old.

“We are not trying to blame or shame women, but to really indicate, in order for a woman to breast-feed, she needs support,” Julia Krasevec, a statistics specialist with UNICEF, who worked on the report, told the News.

That support needs to happen in the home, at work and from the government, she said. It needs to come from husbands, who will cook dinner, and in high-tech offices where nursing mothers are given a room to either feed the baby or pump milk.

And this support must start with the birth, which in richer countries means in the hospital, where lactation specialists can teach the mother how to help the baby latch on.

The 504-page report, “Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms and lifelong effect” by an international group of scientists, is published in Lancet, the British medical journal. It is described as the most comprehensive look ever at breast-feeding.

Women in rich countries breast-feed far less than women in poor countries. In the United States, 27% of moms are still breast-feeding when a baby is 1-year-old. That puts the United States on average with other wealthier countries.

“In high-income countries because most women deliver in facilities, within one hour of birth, the child should be put on the breast,” Krasevec said. “In order to produce milk, the child needs to start suckling early on.”

Some babies are given formula shortly after being born, which undermines breast-feeding, she said.

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest continued breast-feeding rates, mainly as a result that formula is not readily available and when it is, it is too costly for most people.

Still, it is usually wealthier, better-educated women who breast-feed more than poorer women in the United States. Breast-feeding was more common among the poor until the 1960as but that has reversed, according to the study.

Just one in five babies in richer countries are breast-fed until their first birthday. In poorer countries, one in three are breast-fed exclusively for their first six months.

The benefits of breast milk are well known and Krasevec said mother’s milk is likened to a vaccine that can ward off many illnesses.

“Every woman’s breast milk is attuned to their own child’s biology,” Krasevec said. “Cells from the mother’s gut are bought up to the breast so the child’s gut is populated with the right bacteria. It protects the child for a lifetime. It is a personalized medicine and one of the key messages we are going to try to explain.”

The next step will be to work with health officials around the world to get out the word that breast remains best.

jcutler@nydailynews.com

Tags:
women’s health ,
pregnancy ,
children’s health

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Health – NY Daily News

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