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Partnership to Increase Breastfeeding Globally

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Posted September 30, 2015

The Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation of Zug, Switzerland, has awarded a $680,000 grant to the Yale School of Public Health to develop the Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index to accurately measure the effectiveness and progress of breastfeeding promotional programs around the world.

Despite World Health Organization recommendations, less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age are breastfed exclusively. Image credit: Dreamstime

Despite World Health Organization recommendations, less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age are breastfed exclusively. Image credit: Dreamstime

The project seeks to identify concrete measures that a country can take to sustainably increase its breastfeeding rates. Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Ph.D., professor at the Yale School of Public Health and a breastfeeding expert, is the project’s lead researcher.

Human milk bestows a wide range of health benefits to infants, including essential nutrients for development, growth and improved protection against death and common childhood illnesses. Breastfed infants also end up having better intellectual development than formula-fed infants. Breastfeeding also has a variety of health benefits for mothers, helping them prevent excessive blood loss after giving birth and lessening the chances of developing chronic diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

While the World Health Organization recommends human milk as the sole source of nutrition for infants until they reach six months of age (and then continued together with safe and nutritious complementary foods for at least two years of age), exclusive breastfeeding rates remain low and vary widely among countries and cultures around the world. It is estimated that less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age worldwide are breastfed exclusively.

“Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective maternal-child-nutrition interventions ever documented, given the many benefits,” said Pérez-Escamilla. “I’m very proud of this project because The Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index will be based on a breastfeeding scaling-up model that I developed with my Yale team, this model identified the essential ingredients of large-scale successful breastfeeding protection, promotion, and support programs.

The grant from the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation will be used over the next two years to help improve exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. The Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index will be a metric to assist governments in assessing their readiness for and progress with scaling up of their breastfeeding programs. The index will be validated in several countries before global dissemination and uptake.

Pérez-Escamilla and his research team will be accompanied and supported by representatives from various international organisations such as the World Health Organization as well as represented countries as diverse as Mexico, Canada and Bangladesh.

Source: Yale University

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