Insufficient government protection, promotion and support for breastfeeding is costing countries around the world nearly $575 billion a year in economic and human capital losses, according to the latest data from the Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, developed by Nutrition International and Alive & Thrive. These losses, an average of 0.7% of a nation’s gross national income, are the combined result of increased child and maternal mortality, cognitive losses, and additional healthcare costs.
“Breastfeeding is the primary building block of a healthy food system and one of the best ways to give a child the right start in life,” said Joel Spicer, President and CEO, Nutrition International. “But women around the world aren’t getting the support, resources, and protection they need to begin breastfeeding soon enough and sustain it for the recommended period. Governments need to make breastfeeding a top public policy priority, and with the Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, policymakers can see the real-world benefits of doing just that.”
The Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, first released in 2019, has been revamped in 2022, with a new user-friendly dashboard including data for more than 160 countries and, in addition to mortality rates and healthcare costs, offers new calculations for the impact of not breastfeeding on childhood obesity, IQ losses and education. The What If? option also allows users to test different scenarios, such as comparing the impacts of achieving the World Health Assembly nutrition target of 50% for exclusive breastfeeding or even achieving more ambitious country-level targets.
The Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool calculates that more than 515,000 lives could be saved each year if breastfeeding is protected, promoted, and supported in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, including initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continuing breastfeeding alongside complementary feeding from six months to two years and beyond. Breastfeeding works as a baby’s first vaccine, bolstering the immune system and offering protection from childhood diseases, like diarrhoea and pneumonia and reducing the risk of obesity. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers, providing protection from breast and ovarian cancers, as well as type 2 diabetes.
At a population level, inadequate rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can lead to increased healthcare costs down the line, as well as decreased cognitive ability for children, impacting their education and future income potential. For families, not breastfeeding also increases the cost of living, as household income is redirected to formula or other breastmilk substitutes. The Global Breastfeeding Collective recommends seven policy actions that national governments can implement to support and promote breastfeeding, including enacting paid leave and workplace breastfeeding practices, strengthening the links between health facilities and communities, and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
“Increasing breastfeeding rates through supportive actions and policies can help to save the lives of mothers and children, and protect economies from preventable losses,” said Sandra Remancus, Director, Alive & Thrive. “We know what can be done to help and, using the Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool, we can calculate the impact of success.”
The Cost of Not Breastfeeding Tool was first developed between 2017 and 2019 by Dr. Dylan Walters and Alive & Thrive, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2022, Nutrition International updated and developed the second version of the tool in partnership with Alive & Thrive and Limestone Analytics, with funding from the Government of Canada.