#March4Nutrition: Envision better support for women to reach their breastfeeding goals

In honor of National Nutrition Month, 1,000 Days kicked off its annual #March4Nutrition campaign last week to imagine a world in which all moms and babies are healthy, nourished and thriving.

All month long, we invite you to follow #March4Nutrition on Facebook and Twitter and learn about the issues affecting mothers and their children, the work of 1,000 Days and our partners to ensure moms and babies are healthy and thriving, and how you can get involved!

This week we’re envisioning better support for women to reach their breastfeeding goals.

Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits to infants, mothers and society. It is critical that we give all moms the breastfeeding knowledge and support they need to nourish the next generation.

When it comes to giving babies the healthiest start to life, breastfeeding is unmatched. Packed with antibodies, stem cells and other unique properties, breastmilk acts as babies’ first vaccine. It builds their immunity, protecting them from infections, conditions such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia which kill hundreds of thousands of young children every year. Breastfeeding also lowers a child’s risk of developing obesity later in life.

The health effects of breastfeeding for mothers are just as powerful, reducing a woman’s risk of heart disease, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and depression. Researchers estimate that breastfeeding has the potential to save the lives of over 820,000 young children and 20,000 women each year if babies are breastfed early and exclusively for the first six months.

The Current Situation

While most women in the U.S. start breastfeeding, just 25% of babies are exclusively breastfed at six months in accordance with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other top health organizations.

Globally, the numbers aren’t much better. Only 43% of infants younger than six months are exclusively breastfed in accordance with global guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, breastfeeding is one of the best investments in global health: every $1 invested in breastfeeding generates $35 in economic returns. The numbers are clear: supporting mothers on their breastfeeding journey benefits moms, babies and society.

Women who want to breastfeed need stronger support from their families, communities, health care providers and employers. In particular, giving women the time they need to care for their newborns and establish breastfeeding through paid leave policies is critical. Studies show that paid leave helps women breastfeed more successfully and for longer periods of time, enabling both mom and baby to reap the powerful health benefits of breastfeeding. Indeed, having access to paid leave can DOUBLE exclusive breastfeeding rates and has even been linked to lower infant mortality in some countries.

The Opportunity

1,000 Days is fighting to ensure ALL moms receive the support they need on their breastfeeding journey, no matter where they live in the world. We are advocating for comprehensive paid family leave policies that cover all working women, investments in breastfeeding programs to ensure women are better supported to begin breastfeeding in hospitals and continue breastfeeding when they get home and go back to work, as well as restrictions on the unethical marketing of infant formula.

In a world where moms have the support they need to breastfeed, fewer children will die, fewer women will suffer long-term health issues, and ultimately more women and children will be healthy and thriving. This is the world we want.