As we observe World Breastfeeding Week from 1 – 7 August, we recognise that increased breastfeeding has positive effects on the development of our entire society. Breastfeeding is a critical foundation for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. These goals are intended to end poverty and to fight inequality and injustice, to ensure that no individual is left behind, and to direct world-wide development onto a sustainable path.
“Breastfeeding is not just vital for the health and wellbeing of infants, it is vital for the wellbeing of our society and our planet,” says Chantell Witten, Senior Lecturer/Researcher at the North-West University and Breastfeeding spokesperson for the South African Civil Society for Women’s, Adolescents’ and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH).
“Breastfeeding saves energy and water, eliminates hunger, reduces pollution, increases earnings, and improves educational outcomes,” says Witten, “As such we need to ensure that we prioritise breastfeeding and support mothers because neglecting these duties harms our entire society.”
A month’s supply of formula for an infant is estimated to cost R700, and this increases as a baby grows. This does not include the extra costs of energy and water consumed by formula feeding. In low income households these expenses can make the difference between the rest of the family eating sufficient protein or going hungry. This can exacerbate inequality and make it harder for families to depart from poverty.
Feeding an infant eight times a day on formula requires 24 litres of clean water per day, and about 170 litres per week.1 Millions of infants are born every week around the world. If they are all breastfed, we will conserve billions of litres of clean water each year and the added financial burden of buying infant formula.