Of those, newborn deaths now represent nearly half of all child deaths under five years.
Immediate breastfeeding – putting the baby to the mother’s breast within an hour after birth – would significantly reduce neonatal mortality.
Early and exclusive breastfeeding helps children survive, but it also supports healthy brain development, improves cognitive performance and is associated with better educational achievement at age 5.
In this way, breastfeeding allows all children to thrive and develop to their full potential.
Yet, less than half of the world’s newborns benefit from early breastfeeding and even fewer are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
Breastfeeding also contributes to maternal health immediately after the delivery because it helps reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage.
In the short term, breastfeeding delays the return to fertility and in the long term, it reduces type 2 diabetes and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
But non-breastfed children in industrialized countries are also at greater risk of dying - a recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25% increase in mortality among non-breastfed infants.
In the UK Millennium Cohort Survey, six months of exclusive breast feeding was associated with a 53% decrease in hospital admissions for diarrhoea and a 27% decrease in respiratory tract infections.
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Providing this support is the right thing to do for both babies and mothers: breastfeeding prevents infant death, childhood illness and non-communicable diseases, while supporting brain development and protecting maternal health. Women who have adequate maternity benefits value their employers, leading to increased productivity, job satisfaction and loyalty.
In the last two decades, child mortality has decreased considerably, but close to 7 million children under five years of age still die each year, mainly from preventable causes.
Breastfeeding is for every creature in this animated short from China.