This World Breastfeeding Week, we remember an often-neglected way to prevent child deaths

Practising exclusive breastfeeding protects against the top two child killers—diarrhoea and pneumonia. Babies not exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life are seven times more likely to die from diarrhoea and five times more likely to die from pneumonia, compared to those who have been exclusively breastfed. World Vision is asking supporters to reflect on these facts this week, World Breastfeeding Week, from August 1 to 7.

Why are these facts especially vital for you and everyone to know? Because fewer than 40 per cent of the babies in the developing world are exclusively breastfed. Breast milk provides the baby with the mother’s antibodies against many illnesses, and it is a hygienic food for them to consume. Naturally, it is perfectly formulated for their needs and it is all that they need to grow well up to the age of six months. After six months, babies need additional foods to meet their need for different nutrients.

For more breastfeeding facts, click here.

So why aren’t more mothers exclusively breastfeeding their babies? Lack of support from family members, aggressive marketing by infant formula manufacturers to doctors, hospitals and the general public, and short maternity-leave policies all create an unsupportive environment for exclusive breastfeeding.

In late May 2012, all Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) passed a resolution at the 65th World Health Assembly to implement the WHO Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition, which contains six global targets, including an increase in global rates of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent by 2025.

However, it is up to citizens to hold their governments to account to help to ensure that they keep their promises. Citizens—people around the world, in developing and developed countries alike—are key partners and participants in World Vision’s Child Health Now campaign, which aims to end preventable deaths of children under age 5.

“Breastfeeding is a crucial weapon to fight malnutrition, which is responsible for one third of all child deaths under five. World Vision has been working hard to help sustain the 2012 World Health Assembly resolution and other promises by governments to make sure that they do their part to reduce child deaths, including those that can be prevented through breastfeeding,” said Lisa O’Shea, external campaigns manager – World Vision International.

The next moment at which World Vision plans to work with people around the world to mobilise en masse to remind governments of their commitments is during September. In mid-September, the UN General Assembly is beginning its session. The member states of the UN agreed 13 years ago to pursue the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global targets around improving lives. The Child Health Now campaign is most focused on MDG 4—“Reducing child mortality rates—and MDG 5—“Improving maternal health,” because the health of mothers is vital to the health of their children.

The world is falling behind on these two goals, and breastfeeding is a crucial component that is often neglected.

Join Child Health Now now in recognising the importance of breastfeeding this week during World Breastfeeding Week.

And join us again soon as we come together online and, in some countries, in person, to remind the world’s leaders that they need to keep their promises to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. Find out how.