For a number of years now I have heard from various sources the benefits of breast feeding, particularly in the developing world. For reasons spanning from reducing infant mortality and improving nutrition to reduced fertility and accessible family planning, the sources I have previously read encouraged that mothers continue to breastfeed for two years in order to ensure that children are properly nourished and do not risk early exposure to contaminated water that causes diarrhea (and in turn dehydration and often death).
Nicholas Kristof takes up the breastfeeing argument in this article, reemphasizing the benefits of a mother's milk. And almost as interesting as the article are the reader comments. It is obvious that many women, in both the developing and developed world are misinformed about breastfeeding. There are various reasons for this--remaining myths created by formula companies seeking additional profits; misconceptions about hydration and the need for infants to drink water; difficulty with breastfeeding and lack of lactation support and information; etc., etc. The point is, whatever the reasons for not breastfeeding, the results are often increased infant mortality and malnourishment in children. While the benefits include healthier babies and reduced fertility in mothers (meaning, fewer children die and mothers have fewer children--two major issues in the developing world).
According to the research of The Lancet, 1.4 million lives could be saved every year if children were properly breastfed (meaning receiving breast milk ONLY for at least the first six months of life).
Again, this is so simple. It is a means all women naturally possess, regardless of their circumstances or even their own nutrition. (Many mistakenly believe that women who are malnourished cannot breastfeed. But actually, most women, even if they do not receive adequate nutrients and water, will still produce breast milk that can save their children's lives and reduce additional burdens to the family by requiring that food be provided for the infant.)
And while some mothers may choose not to breastfeed because of personal preference, many choose not to breastfeed because of lack of information and support. This is not a cure all, but educating women about breastfeeding and providing maternal care is an important, low-cost and relatively easy way of improving the lives of women, children and families worldwide.
Nature provides a way once again. Let's use it!
Picture taken from Kristof article.