The benefits of breast feeding are many, varied, and (at least in some settings) profound. According to a recent paper, widespread breastfeeding could save millions of lives around the globe.
In the new issue of the medical journal The Lancet, Sonia Bechara Coutinho, Pedro Israel Cabral de Lira, Marilia de Carvalho Lima, and Ann Ashworth report on the "Comparison of the effect of two systems for the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding." In the article's introduction, they report some chilling numbers about how many child deaths would be prevented if mothers would breast feed.
Most of the 10*8 million child deaths during the year 2000 were from preventable causes... If 90% of infants were exclusively breastfed at 0-5 months and continued to be breastfed from 6 months to 11 months, there would be an estimated 13% reduction in child deaths worldwide.2 This potential reduction in mortality is higher than for any other level-1 intervention. Current rates of exclusive breastfeeding are far below 90% in most countries, and in some, for example in Latin America, even the duration of breastfeeding is short.
...We report a randomised trial comparing the effect on rates of exclusive breastfeeding of two systems to promote breastfeeding in northeastern Brazil. The interventions were a hospital-based system, in which maternity staff were trained with the course content for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), and a combination of this hospital-based system and a community-based system providing ten postnatal home visits.
The study found that home visits significantly increased the chances that babies would be exclusively breast fed.
The patterns of exclusive breastfeeding in the two trial groups for days 10-180 differed significantly (p<0*0001), with a mean aggregated prevalence of 45% among the group assigned home visits compared with 13% for the group assigned none.