Breastfeeding trends show most developing countries may miss global nutrition targets

Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months makes more difference to a baby’s health and survival than any other intervention. Exclusive breastfeeding, the practice of giving only breast milk (no other food or water), is the ideal for an infant’s first six months. Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients an infant needs at this stage.

Research has illuminated the longer-term health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the mother and child. These benefits include reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence and certain noncommunicable diseases later in life and enhancing human capital in adulthood. Additionally, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure among mothers.

These are just a few of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. Overall, it makes more difference to a baby’s health and survival than any other intervention . That’s the reason why the World Health Organisation (WHO) includes it as a proven protective intervention in the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea.

The WHO initially set a global target of 50% prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding by 2025 . Recently it was updated to at least 70% prevalence by 2030 . It means that every member country is expected to achieve an exclusive breastfeeding prevalence of at least 70% by the end of 2030.

Previous research has shown that the proportion of exclusively breastfed children remains low in many lower and middle-income countries, however.

As part of the Global Burden of Disease study , my colleagues and I recently published our analysis of data covering two decades (2000-2018) from 94 low- and middle-income countries. We examined the trends and prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding and projected the performance of countries in relation to WHO targets. This type of analysis can help countries formulate the necessary policies and interventions to promote breastfeeding practices. Findings from our study

Total prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding increased (27% to 39%) across all countries during the study period (2000-2018). But we found significant variations between countries and within regions. This suggests intra-regional inequalities that need attention from leaders.

Countries included in the study made substantial progress. For example, 57 of the 94 countries had an aggregate exclusive breastfeeding practice level of less than 30% in half of their basic administrative units (referred to in this study as provinces) in 2000. But by 2018, exclusive breastfeeding prevalence in some of these countries (8) rose closer to 50%, with at least 45% exclusive breastfeeding levels in most provinces. Similarly, 34 countries had at least one province recording more than a 45% increase in exclusive breastfeeding prevalence by the end of 2018.

Of the African countries, Chad and Somalia had the highest rates of annualised decline in exclusive breastfeeding practices during the study period. Progress towards the 70% target

To estimate future prevalence, we assumed that current trends would continue. We first projected based on the initial target of 25% by 2025, followed by the updated target of at least 70% by 2030. In general, exclusive breastfeeding practices across the […]

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