As a part of World Breastfeeding Week, new analysis from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that no country in the world fully meets the recommended standards for breastfeeding. A collaborative effort with UNICEF and Global Breastfeeding Collective, the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard evaluated 194 nations in total.

“We are failing mothers and their babies”

Only 40% of children younger than six months are breastfed exclusively (given nothing but breast-milk) and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60%, the report mentioned.

This is considered poor given that scientific evidence shows that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers. It helps preventing diarrhoea and pneumonia within the critical first six months of a newborn’s life; reduces the risk of obesity and diabetes for children later in life; as well as reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in the mother—both of which are the leading causes of death in women.

"Breastfeeding is one of the most effective—and cost effective—investments nations can make in the health of their youngest members and the future health of their economies and societies," elaborated UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

"By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their babies—and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost opportunity," he emphasised.

In fact, lack of investment in breastfeeding in emerging economies such as China, India and Indonesia, has resulted in an estimated 236,000 child deaths per year and USD119 billion in total economic losses.

Public breastfeeding in Asia still not fully accepted

Compared to Europe and America, breastfeeding in Asia highly regarded. Despite that, women who breastfeed in public still face widespread harassment. A survey published in March involving 9,242 people in eight countries across Asia found that the strongest advocates for open breastfeeding were Hong Kong and Thailand.

Additionally, the survey also discovered that men and married individuals were more supportive of the act, as compared to women and single people. The survey also revealed 77% opined that public breastfeeding is acceptable; while 75% expressed that it should be protected by law.

However, according to Mythili Pandi, president of the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group in Singapore, “Mothers still get dirty looks from people who walk by. A lot of people have been told off for breastfeeding in public."

In Hong Kong, 40% of breastfeeding mothers have faced some form of discrimination. This appears to be because of the conservative moral values or a lack of awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Discrimination highlights the need for more initiatives

WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, believes that progress is only possible if there are more investments in initiatives that better support a woman’s decision to breastfeed.

Thus, on 1 August this year, the WHO, UNICEF and 20 other non-governmental agencies have come together to create the Global Breastfeeding Collective. The collective aims to call on governments, donors and stakeholders to establish and advance programmes and policies that will help women breastfeed publically without being shamed.

One of the core programmes the group plans to work on is strengthening the policies that protect new mothers—ensuring they receive at least 18 weeks of maternity leave, and are guaranteed to receive the same level of pay once they return to work. There are also plans to establish more breastfeeding spaces in workplaces.

Another point of action is to enforce the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which was implemented in 1981. Aggressive advertising of breast-milk alternatives can make women feel insecure about their ability to breastfeed. They aim to give women the choice on what to feed their babies “based on impartial information and free of commercial influences.” MIMS

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