Video credit: JSI/Joshua Yospyn

Breastfeeding: Not Just Mom’s Job

How USAID Promotes and Protects Breastfeeding

Video credit: JSI/Joshua Yospyn

Optimal breastfeeding is one of the most powerful solutions we have to save the lives of infants and children.

But despite broad agreement about its benefits, less than half of newborns worldwide initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth and only 41% of infants under 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed.

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Photo credit: USAID Feed the Future / Herve Irankunda

Breastfeeding benefits both infants and mothers.

Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for infants, supports optimal cognitive and physical development, and reduces risk of disease. For nursing women, breastfeeding improves birth spacing and reduces the risk of certain types of cancers and chronic diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Source: USAID Advancing Nutrition

There are also economic impacts.

Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective nutrition and child survival interventions. Low breastfeeding rates worldwide are estimated to result in annual economic losses totaling $302 billion. That’s 0.49% of the global gross national income!

This loss means societies are unable to expand to their maximum economic ability, foster a robust job market, and invest in key economic-growth sectors such as education, health, and infrastructure.

A summary of the Alive & Thrive Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool (2 minutes, 20 seconds)

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Photo credit: SPRING/John Nicholson

But breastfeeding is not just mom’s job.

Improving breastfeeding is not just about supporting the woman and child—it requires encouragement and support from skilled counselors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers, and others.

But breastfeeding is not just mom’s job.

Improving breastfeeding is not just about supporting the woman and child—it requires encouragement and support from skilled counselors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers, and others.

Photo credit: SPRING/John Nicholson
Nurse Isabella Hwinzela Bigendako stands outside the health facility in Tanzania

Mama Breastfeeding: How a Nurse in Tanzania Promotes Breastfeeding in Her Community

To strangers, Isabella goes by Isabella Hwinzela Bigendako or Nurse Isabella. But to family, friends, and colleagues, she answers to a different name: ‘Mama Breastfeeding.’ She earned the nickname after dedicating her life to educating others on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for infants and young children.

a midwife supports a new mother to breastfeed

Seven Ways that USAID Supports Breastfeeding: Celebrating Over 40 Years of Breastfeeding Efforts

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, read on to learn a few of the many ways that USAID supports the practice around the world, including teaching families the benefits of breastfeeding and partnering with governments for long-term economic growth.

woman breastfeeding baby next to husband

Six Months Strong: How USAID Supports Families to Exclusively Breastfeed

Exclusive breastfeeding — when an infant receives only breast milk without any additional food or drink for the first six months — is the single most effective intervention to reduce child mortality. Despite this, only 37 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed.

USAID Promotes and Protects Breastfeeding Around the World

For more than 40 years, USAID has promoted breastfeeding to save lives, prevent malnutrition, and enhance the long-term health and development of women and children. USAID’s breastfeeding interventions educate and support mothers and families on the benefits of breastfeeding by addressing the key barriers to optimal breastfeeding practices and creating an enabling environment to encourage breastfeeding.

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USAID is a proud member of the Global Breastfeeding Collective and a champion of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding through the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) to create an enabling environment for breastfeeding.

USAID supports countries to strengthen their health workers’ capacity to provide skilled counseling and support for breastfeeding. Understanding the importance of social norms to foster an enabling environment for breastfeeding, USAID supports the establishment of peer and mother-to-mother and father-to-father support groups. To ensure data-driven solutions, USAID also supports efforts to monitor progress through Demographic and Health Surveys and improved health information systems.

USAID breastfeeding fact sheet cover

USAID Breastfeeding Fact Sheet

Providing a Healthy Start for a Healthy Future

Nourishing Lives & Building the Future

Nourishing Lives & Building the Future

The History of Nutrition at USAID

Since 1990, USAID’s efforts have contributed to the average prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding doubling across USAID’s priority nutrition countries.

Use the map to explore progress on nutrition indicators such as an increase in median duration of exclusive breastfeeding.

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Photo: USAID/A. Kauffeld

Breastfeeding During an Emergency

The life-saving protection of breastfeeding during an emergency setting provides a safe, nutritious, and accessible food source for infants and young children and a protective shield against death and disease. Displaced populations are often unable to access safe water and sanitation facilities, making breastfeeding an effective way to prevent diarrhea.

During emergencies, USAID supports families to resume and continue breastfeeding whenever possible by creating safe spaces for mothers to breastfeed, forming mother-to-mother support groups, counseling families on good infant and young child feeding practices, and regularly collecting data to monitor these practices.

Breastfeeding During an Emergency

The life-saving protection of breastfeeding during an emergency setting provides a safe, nutritious, and accessible food source for infants and young children and a protective shield against death and disease. Displaced populations are often unable to access safe water and sanitation facilities, making breastfeeding an effective way to prevent diarrhea.

During emergencies, USAID supports families to resume and continue breastfeeding whenever possible by creating safe spaces for mothers to breastfeed, forming mother-to-mother support groups, counseling families on good infant and young child feeding practices, and regularly collecting data to monitor these practices.

Photo: USAID/A. Kauffeld

Breastfeeding and COVID-19

USAID recognizes the potential harm the COVID-19 pandemic has on breastfeeding around the world. However, breastfed children have not been shown to be at risk of transmission of COVID-19 through breastmilk. The WHO and UNICEF recommend that mothers continue to breastfeed if COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed.

UNICEF's guide to breastfeeding safely during the COVID-19 pandemic (1 minute, 10 seconds)

illustration of woman breastfeeding while wearing a face mask

Infant and Young Child Feeding Recommendations When COVID-19 Is Suspected or Confirmed

This counseling package, developed by USAID Advancing Nutrition and UNICEF, provides easy-to-understand recommended practices for counsellors and user-friendly graphics that can be used with low-literacy communities in different contexts.

woman nursing baby at night wearing mask to protect from COVID-19 exposure

COVID-19 Infant Feeding Research Interest Group and Working Group

This group convenes scientists, agencies, and organizations to answer core questions about the transmission of COVID-19 via human milk/breastfeeding. This group meets monthly to discuss research and share evidence related to infant feeding practices and COVID-19.

Breastfeeding and COVID-19 Resources

Recent

Evaluation of a Community-Based Mobile Video Breastfeeding Intervention in Khayelitsha, South Africa: The Philani MOVIE Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial

Adam, Maya, Jamie Johnston, Nophiwe Job, et al. PLOS Medicine, September 2021
  • Early Childhood Development
Videos were as effective as face-to-face counseling when community health workers (CHWs) used them to replace a portion of that counseling. mHealth video interventions could be a feasible and practical solution to support the delivery and scaling of community health promotion services when the CHW workforce is limited.

COVID Vaccines and Breastfeeding: What the Data Say

Nature, June 2021
  • Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning
Early research indicates that vaccines do not pass through breast milk—but antibodies do.

Achieving Health Equity: Providing Skilled Breastfeeding Support Universally

World Health Organization, August 2020
  • Capacity Strengthening
Global leaders discuss why investment in skilled breastfeeding support is essential to achieving equitable health outcomes. This is a webinar available in Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.