Breastfeeding is globally among the most under-funded nutrition interventions despite the fact that it can help prevent non-communicable diseases including cancers, while the burden of purchasing baby formula products is growing despite its risks to infant health.

Projecting a rise in global sales of baby foods by 37 per cent – from USD 11.5 billion to USD 42.7 billion between 2008 and 2013 -- a global paper launched on Wednesday has warned governments of the adverse effects of neglecting optimal breastfeeding.

Part of the World Breastfeeding Costing Initiative, the paper titled, 'The Need to Invest in Babies – A Global Drive for Financial Investments in Children’s Health and Development through Universalising Interventions for Optimal Breastfeeding' asks governments to invest in optimal breastfeeding to improve child health and reduce costs in the treatment of non-communicable diseases in the future.

The paper estimates that an investment of USD 17.5 billion must be made to put in place a package of
interventions globally to create an enabling environment for breastfeeding.

Optimal breastfeeding is defined as timely initiation of breastfeeding -- within one hour of birth--, exclusive
breastfeeding --without water and other liquids-- till six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years of life with the introduction of adequate complementary foods.

Arguing for such investments, the paper says nations can avoid a lot of wastage by investing in breastfeeding practices.

"Strong evidence from randomised trials shows the  average effect of early weaning from exclusive breastfeeding  reduces child's IQ by 3 to 7 points. "This is comparable with prenatal lead exposure with
cognitive damage akin to several months of wasted schooling," says the paper launched in India today.

The authors of the paper ask some tough questions of Governments.

"Why in some countries is the baby food formula industry subsidised to actively promote the loss of human capability to breastfeed a child? In the US alone the cost of prematurely weaning babies from exclusive  reastfeeding is some USD 13 billion and hundreds of lives annually," points out the initiative of the International Baby Food Action Network.

Of the 135 million babies born annually in the world, almost 83 million suffer from lack of optimal  breastfeeding practices.


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