Exclusive breastfeeding — when an infant receives only breast milk without any additional food or drink for the first six months — is the single most effective intervention to reduce child mortality. Despite this, only 37 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed.
In more than 25 countries around the world, USAID supports six months of exclusive breastfeeding followed by continued breastfeeding and the introduction of age-appropriate foods to ensure that children build the foundation for a strong, healthy life.
These early breastfeeding practices lead to stronger economies, too. In fact, every dollar invested in breastfeeding leads to an estimated $35 in economic gains.
This World Breastfeeding Week, see how USAID’s efforts support women and their families to overcome key barriers to breastfeeding, such as myths, misconceptions, and lack of family support. Recognizing that individual support is not enough, USAID also works with governments, health systems, and other stakeholders to improve policies and programs to support breastfeeding families.
Peer Support Helps Navigate Cultural and Family Misconceptions
In Kenya, misconceptions and traditional cultural beliefs sometimes run counter to optimal breastfeeding practices. Some families introduce water or other liquids in addition to breast milk or only initiate breastfeeding after traditional Kenyan naming ceremonies, which can occur up to two weeks after birth.
USAID assists peer support groups in Kenya, where trained model mothers lead talks with other moms about healthy nutrition. One peer group participant, Gladys Lokatukon, says, “we now understand that giving newborns goat milk and water will lead to lower immunity, compromising a baby’s health. The sessions have enabled so many mothers to initiate early breastfeeding. Men have also been supportive and are now available for naming ceremonies when the baby is born so that newborns can breastfeed immediately.”
Bangladeshi mother Sufia Bergum’s family discouraged her from visiting the local health facility for check-ups and counseling during her first pregnancy, instead favoring more traditional, home-based care. When Sufia was pregnant with her second child, a USAID-trained community health worker, Bibi Joynab, visited Sufia in her home and counseled her on proper nutrition during pregnancy, the importance of pre- and post-natal check-ups and care, and the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. Bibi also included Sufia’s husband and mother-in-law in counseling sessions so that her family could encourage and support these practices. Family members serve as a critical support system for breastfeeding women.
Sufia’s five-month-old daughter Manju is growing strong. Sufia explained: “this time, I did not feed my baby honey and water. My mother-in-law is also following Bibi’s advice and supports me to exclusively breastfeed. It is a wonderful feeling to know that I provide nutrients and immunity to my child through breastfeeding.”
Counseling Helps Ensure Joint Involvement
In Madagascar, new parents Eliana and Njarasoa had a lot of questions about how to best care for their ten-month-old daughter, Lizia. These discussions often led them to argue.
Thanks to a USAID project led by Catholic Relief Services, the couple received coaching and advice from a Gender Leader on joint decision-making for nutrition and health, including the importance of learning together. Njarasoa is proud of his involvement in caring for their daughter: “I accompanied my wife during the growth and monitoring sessions,” he said, “and learned how to cook nutritious meals. I now know basic information on child vaccinations and breastfeeding.”
USAID has helped expand counseling and support for breastfeeding through community health group meetings in Northern Uganda. Through these meetings, James Opio learned how he can support his wife during and after pregnancy so that both mom and baby get the nutrition they need.
“When my wife was pregnant and since she delivered, I have helped ensure that she eats well so that our baby receives breast milk with adequate nutrients,” he explained. “I also help her with household chores such as cooking and fetching water.”
James is now considered a male champion in his community. He reaches out to men and women in neighboring communities and invites them to join group meetings and learn more about health and nutrition.
USAID’s maternal and child nutrition efforts ensure that parents, families, and communities aspire to breastfeed and have the support they need to enable them to do so. In 2018 alone, USAID reached more than 6.9 million pregnant women with nutrition interventions*, including breastfeeding counseling and support. By ensuring that children receive the healthiest start to life, USAID is building the future for strong, productive individuals, more resilient communities, and self-reliant societies.
*Due to reporting delays, one country’s reach is still forthcoming and not included in this overall result.
About the Author
Catherine Korona is a communications analyst with USAID’s Office of Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition.