7 Ways USAID Supports Breastfeeding

Celebrating over 40 years of breastfeeding efforts this World Breastfeeding Week

Ratna, a new mother in Indonesia, with midwife Ero Pujiati. Ero is a mentor who works with hospitals in the country to improve the quality of care using approaches from USAID’s Expanding Maternal and Newborn Survival program. / USAID

For more than 40 years, USAID has promoted breastfeeding to prevent malnutrition and ensure that children grow up healthy.

Breast milk is a perfect food for infants, providing all the nutrients their bodies need to grow and develop during the first six months of life. It also promotes brain development and acts like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting against illnesses like diarrhea and respiratory infections.

The benefits of breastfeeding don’t just extend to babies; studies found it can even protect women from breast and ovarian cancer later in life, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and contribute to healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. In fact, scaling up breastfeeding could prevent over 800,000 child deaths and 20,000 deaths among women each year.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, read on to learn a few of the many ways that USAID supports the practice around the world:

1. Teaching Families the Benefits of Breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding benefits both mom and baby, lack of knowledge, cultural norms and traditions, and many other barriers prevent women and families in some countries from meeting their breastfeeding goals.

USAID programs educate mothers and families on the benefits of breastfeeding, including putting baby to breast within the first hour of life, breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and then continuing to breastfeed along with complementary foods for up to 2 years of age and beyond.

Patients wait for care at a health clinic in Bamako, Mali. / Jane Silcock, USAID

USAID also helps families learn about the lactational amenorrhea method, a way for women who exclusively breastfeed to naturally space and delay future pregnancies. The method has multiple benefits for both mom and baby, such as preventing infant illnesses and reducing maternal bleeding after birth.

Community video, radio talk shows, village groups, counseling and lactation support are just some of the ways USAID programs help mothers learn how to breastfeed and teach families how to support them.

Oumou, a mother of five, joined a USAID-supported group in rural Mali during her fifth pregnancy. There, she learned the other liquids she gave her children during infancy could have contributed to their frequent diarrhea and health problems. With her fifth child, she decided to make a change.

“Thanks to exclusive breastfeeding, my child, now 5 months old, has not had diarrhea so far,” Oumou said. “He is very strong and healthy at all times.”

2. Partnering with Governments for Long-term Economic Growth

USAID works with governments of partner countries to ensure that breastfeeding is included in their national nutrition action plans and other strategies.

Breastfeeding has been linked to more years of education and greater income generation later in life, while sub-optimal breastfeeding leads to an estimated $302 billion in economic losses globally each year.

Through expanding government support for breastfeeding, USAID is enhancing the economic productivity of future generations.

3. Building Strong Support Systems

Promoting breastfeeding involves more than educating new mothers; to achieve their breastfeeding goals, women need support from others — the babies’ fathers, health workers and peers.

Whether through creating women’s support groups, designing radio shows for new parents to ask questions, or educating fathers to help their breastfeeding wives and partners, USAID programs ensure that moms get the support they need.

In southwest Uganda, where rates of malnutrition are among the highest in the country, USAID has created family life schools. Led by USAID-trained community leaders, these life schools bring together men, women and children to discuss healthy practices that boost nutrition, health and hygiene.

Women in the Bulambira community participate in a breastfeeding attachment competition as part of a family life school meeting. The women in green on the right won the competition, as community judges determined she had the best attachment. / Kate Consavage, USAID

“Before joining the group, I had heard of a common practice in the community of providing porridge right after birth, but the group taught us not to do this,” said Evas, a mother of two from the Rubanda district. “Instead, I only gave both my children breast milk for the first 6 months of their lives.”

And she was supported along the way, both by her husband and her community.

4. Improving Breastfeeding in Health Facilities

USAID designs and supports training courses for staff in health facilities, such as nurses and midwives, on how to counsel new moms on proper attachment and positioning of their newborn babies to successfully breastfeed. USAID also provides specialized training on how to educate and counsel around breastfeeding for mothers who are HIV+.

In 2017, USAID provided over 1 million people with nutrition-related professional trainings, including breastfeeding education, counseling and support. USAID has also worked with hospitals in multiple countries to become baby-friendly.

5. Crunching Numbers to Track Progress

Through Demographic and Health Surveys, USAID collects country-level data on breastfeeding rates. This data helps countries track breastfeeding rates, monitor success of breastfeeding programs and policies and identify priority areas for future breastfeeding support.

In Cambodia, Demographic and Health Surveys data provided the evidence that helped lead to enhanced government action and effective nutrition programming, increasing the rate of babies breastfed in the first hour of life from 11 percent to 63 percent between 2000 and 2014.

Lokaala Kole and family at home in Kenya. / Alex Maina for USAID

6. Helping Moms Provide for their Children Even in Times of Crises

During emergencies, USAID supports families to continue breastfeeding whenever possible by creating safe spaces for mothers to breastfeed, forming mother-to-mother support groups, counseling families on infant and young child feeding, and regularly collecting data to monitor these practices. USAID also enables pregnant and breastfeeding women to improve their own health and nutrition during emergencies, so they can better provide for their children.

7. Helping Our Own Staff Achieve their Breastfeeding Goals

In addition to lactation rooms at worksites, USAID provides its employees worldwide with a free package of breastfeeding information and resources; access to discounts on breast pumps; parenting, adoption and child care resources; as well as 24/7 access to certified lactation consultants to ensure that new parents feel supported.

Young mom, Celestina Edoka, 23, breastfeeds her newborn at Lokoja Federal Medical Center in Nigeria. / Karen Kasmauski for USAID

By supporting breastfeeding worldwide, USAID makes sure children receive the nutrition they need for optimal growth and nutrition. In 2017, USAID reached over 5.2 million pregnant women with nutrition interventions, including breastfeeding education, counseling and support. USAID’s breastfeeding efforts help children grow into strong, productive citizens.

Through programs that strengthen health systems and boost economic productivity, USAID helps build self-reliant societies that will one day move beyond development assistance.


About the Author

Kate Consavage is a Nutrition Communications and Knowledge Management Advisor in USAID’s Global Health Bureau.