Not breastfeeding costs the global economy close to one billion dollars per day, according to researchers in Canada and Asia. But mothers are not to blame. Societal structures need to change to accommodate and promote the practice of exclusive nursing.
The World Health Organization advises mothers to exclusively breastfeed infants from birth until six months. After that, the WHO recommends continuing to breastfeed along with giving solid foods for a minimum of two years.
Despite the official recommendations, only forty percent of mothers exclusively nurse for the first six months of their babies' lives. The researchers claim that 820,000 child deaths could be prevented each year if all mothers breastfed. The accumulated cost of these deaths worldwide totals one billion dollars every day.
As it turns out, there is not a single country that has policies in place making this possible for all women. Many new mothers have to go back to work sooner than six months, making nursing impossible. Pumping is difficult, impractical in some careers, and can lead to early weaning. Some new mothers even face hostility in the workplace, despite laws meant to prevent it.
So what do moms need to ensure that exclusive breastfeeding is a valid, accessible choice to all? Ideally, they need longer, paid maternity leaves. This would have the added benefit of keeping women in the workplace, as many who want more time off simply leave. Flexible, part-time, or work-from-home alternatives would also help. As would allowing women to bring their babies to work with them, or providing on-site childcare.
The workplace is not the only obstacle that women face when it comes to nursing their babies over the long term. Aggressive marketing campaigns by formula companies do not support breastfeeding at all. Some advertisements imply that formula is healthier or an equal match to human breastmilk.
Last, but certainly not least, is the stigma with regards to breastfeeding in public. Whether it is the side eye or blatant harassment, publically nursing mothers face bullying. Many feel shamed into using a bottle instead.
Of course, not every baby can be breastfed. There are also moms who make a conscious, educated choice to formula feed their infants. The point here is that breastfeeding needs to be supported by our society so that it is a valid choice for any woman who wants to do it.