Breastfeeding in Developing Countries

Almost 6.9 million children under five died around the world in 2011. Did you also know that almost 830,000 deaths could be avoided if every baby was breastfed within the first hour of life? As soon as the infant is born, the mother produces a special milk called colostrum. Colostrum is known to be the most potent natural immune system booster ever known in the field of science. It is considered the superfood for newborn infants and protects them from hunger and disease. Breastfeeding for at least six months prevents infant mortality and protects infants from diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia. Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, global rates of breastfeeding have remained below forty percent for the past twenty years. Why? According to Carolyn Miles, the President and CEO of Save the Children, there are four main barriers to breastfeeding around the world. These barriers include: community and cultural pressures, the health work shortage, lack of maternity legislation, and inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes. It is essential to tackle these barriers to save lives of children all over the world. There needs to be more aid resources allocated to promote breastfeeding among women and families in developing countries.
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There is no strong campaign in the global health arena that truly advocates for more mothers to breastfeed their infants in developing nations. Many aid organizations invest in vaccines, medicines, and other methods to prevent child deaths under five. Out of all these methods, breastfeeding is the most effective in safeguarding children under five from diseases that can potentially kill them. It is surprising why global health aid organizations do not recognize the potential benefits of breastfeeding. In addition, breastfeeding is very cost effective. Breastfeeding not only protects a child from diseases, but it can also aid in preventing malnutrition. According to the Save the Children report, failure to ensure early initiation of breastfeeding  was linked to an increase of the child being underweight compared to their height. If more global health aid organizations see the potential for breastfeeding, there is chance that the barriers to  breastfeeding can be eliminated. These organizations can have the ability to increase the health workers to help teach new moms to breastfeed. In addition, the organizations can also advocate for maternity legislation and for the regulation of breastmilk substitutes.

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Similar to tobacco companies, breastmilk substitute companies are able to market their products without any types of regulation in developing countries. They often undermine the benefits of breastfeeding to sell their products. Despite the international regulations, there is no concrete enforcement. Global health aid agencies may have the funding and the resources to combat this problem. Breastmilk substitute manufacturers have marketed their products by claiming these products have various health benefits. However, these claims are not very backed up by scientific evidence. There is no enforcement of false claims despite international regulations by the World Health Assembly. These manufacturers have influence over health care workers, clinics, and hospitals. Many clinics and hospitals allow manufacturers to market their products within the premises. According to a survey in Pakistan, 11% of mothers interviewed reported seeing or reading about a promotional campaign by these companies in a clinic or hospital. Many of these companies target healthcare workers by giving them gifts, posters or free samples to promote these products to their patients. Global health aid organizations can influence the clinics that they provide aid to not allow any advertisements for breastmilk substitutes. In addition, they can create a rule that health workers cannot receive any types of gifts or samples from these companies.

Breastfeeding can save many lives of young children. Breastfeeding not only is beneficial for the child but also the mother as well. As much as 13% of all deaths of children younger than 5 years could be prevented by promotional strategies to increase breastfeeding rates. If more global health aid organizations promoted breastfeeding as solution, that can make a big difference in decreasing child deaths under five. Why not market the simple and easy solution?

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