Global aspects of breastfeeding

Alison McFadden, Joyce L. Marshall, Grace Edwards, Joanne Welsh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breastmilk for 6 months of life. The evidence is now overwhelming to show that breastfeeding saves lives, particularly in babies born in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Early initiation of breastfeeding in the golden hour after birth is crucial. Breastfeeding immediately after birth has been shown to increase the duration of breastfeeding and protect against gastrointestinal infections and malnutrition globally. Exclusive breastfeeding has also been linked to higher IQs and subsequently higher earning potential in children and a reduced risk of breast cancer in women who have breast fed. Mixed feeding and artificial feeding leaves infants at a greater risk of morbidity and mortality from infection.

If efforts were made to increase breastfeeding rates globally to reach universal levels, it would be the most effective way to ensure child health and survival and could potentially save around 820,000 infant lives per year. Presently, less than half of babies under 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed. Currently, there is wide variation in exclusive global breastfeeding rates from 3% in St Lucia to 87% in Rwanda and much work needs to be done, particularly in LMICs where the exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 40%.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe continuous textbook of women's medicine series: Obstetrics module
Subtitle of host publicationThe puerperium
EditorsKate Lightly, Andrew Weeks
Place of PublicationOnline
PublisherThe Global Library of Women's Medicine
ISBN (Print)ISSN: 1756-2228
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • women's health
  • breastfeeding
  • infant and young child feeding


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