It’s free, it doesn’t discriminate, it’s safe, supported and backed by a global legal framework – and it best benefits bubs. It’s breastfeeding.

Here’s why women should be supported to breastfeed, and how UNICEF is rising to the global challenge of helping women combine work and child-rearing.

A premature baby breastfed in State University Hospital Haiti
A premature baby is breast fed at a UNICEF supported maternity ward in the State University Hospital of Port au Prince, Haiti. © UNICEF/HTIA2012-00342/Dormino

It’s a child’s right

It’s true that women have been breastfeeding for a lot, lot, lot longer than there’s been a United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the 25-year-old set of children’s rights does set out a child’s right to good health: kicked off with that first breast feed.

It doesn’t discriminate

Access to breast milk is available to babies regardless of a mother or family’s income, where they live, their racial or social background, where they studied, or their religious choices. 

It’s free…

It’s nutrient rich, good for mum and for bubs, boosts a baby’s future school attendance and even their IQ. Sound like an infomercial? Yup. There are many products that promise all these things for a newborn bub, but breast milk can do all that – and it’s free.

… and it benefits everyone

Of all the life-saving interventions for infants, breastfeeding has the most impact and benefit for everyone. Breastfeeding can save health-care systems significant resources due to reduced illness among breastfed babies. In the United States of America, US$13 billion could be saved in paediatric health care and other costs if the rate of exclusive breastfeeding increased.  Another US$17.4 billion could be saved on maternal health care and other costs. 

Mother in India breastfeeds baby whilst harvesting vegetables
Asha Mohammed, of India, pauses to breastfeeds her son, Gemechisa Dawe, 1, while harvesting vegetables from her family’s vegetable garden. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-3644/Nesbitt

It’s environmentally-friendly

Breastfeeding provides a natural, renewable food that needs no packaging, transportation or cooking, making it environmentally friendly.

Mother breastfeeds her newborn son in a maternity ward in Samoa
Tusi watches on as his wife Christina breastfeeds their newborn son Christopher Victory in the maternity ward of Samoa’s national hospital.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2494/Pirozzi

It saves babies’ lives

Starting breastfeeding in the first hour of life, exclusively breastfeeding for six months and continuing breastfeeding with complementary foods until 2 years of age could prevent over 800,000 deaths annually.

It’s good for mums

Women who breastfeed have a decreased risk of diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and some cardiovascular diseases.  

Mother breastfeeds her baby assisted by a nurse in Uzbekistan
Gulonur Bekbosinova, of Uzbekistan, breastfeeds her one-day-old, Arman, assisted by a Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative trained nurse. © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1705/Pirozzi

It’s supported

UNICEF and its partners advocate for mothers to be supported and feel comfortable breastfeeding. While breastfeeding might appear to be instinctive, it is a learned skill that requires instruction, support and practice. Without it, many mothers give up exclusive breastfeeding – or stop breastfeeding completely.

HIV positive mother undergoing antiretroviral treatment breastfeeds baby
Nokuthula Hung, 27, of South Africa, is HIV positive. She can breastfeed thanks to UNICEF-supported antiretroviral treatment. © UNICEF/PFPG2014P-0415/Schermbrucker

It’s safe…

It is safe for mothers living with HIV to breastfeed their children exclusively for the first six months and continue thereafter with adequate complementary foods in combination with their antiretroviral therapy.

Mother breastfeeding her baby the day after the Nepal Earthquake
Pooja, 27, breastfeeds her baby born just a day before the second Nepal earthquake. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-2951/Page

…even in an emergency

Exclusive breastfeeding is an essential life-saving practice during crises and emergencies, to protect against communicable disease and undernutrition. UNICEF’s emergency preparedness and response plans include breastfeeding protection, promotion and support.

Mother breastfeeds her son whilst cutting vegetables in Haiti
Haiti mum Saint Therese Petit, 33, cleans and cuts vegetables while breastfeeding her six-month-old son Jean Philippe Darilius. © UNICEF/HTIA2012-00089/Dormino

It’s …

UNICEF knows children who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than children who are not breastfed, and advocates for mothers who face barriers to breastfeeding their babies.
This year, World Breast Feeding Week recognises the support needed for working women to continue breastfeeding and the benefits this has for children, mums and workplaces.
While the benefits for mums and bubs are well documented, where women are supported to continue exclusive breastfeeding in their baby’s first six months, workplaces see reduced absenteeism, increased staff retention, loyalty and productivity and even a 3 to 1 return on investment, largely from long-term health care cost savings.

What is UNICEF doing to support breastfeeding?

  • UNICEF is advocating for children’s rights. A breastfed baby is enjoying their right to the best start in life. You help UNICEF reach every child, especially infants living in vulnerable circumstances.
  • UNICEF is working with girls and young women to keep them in school. Educated girls make good decisions for themselves and their children, including a decision to breastfeed. You bring education to children, even in the harshest and most challenging environments.
  • UNICEF is educating women on the health benefits for them and their children. You help us reach mothers with skilled birth attendants and post-natal care.
  • UNICEF supports the Baby-Friendly Health Initiative in Australia, and around the world, to deliver counselling and education for new mums. This kind of support can increase exclusive breastfeeding rates among children less than 6 months old by up to 90 per cent. Your donation opens doors for UNICEF to talk to more partners and deliver more results.
  • UNICEF and supporters like you have made it possible for healthy babies to be born to HIV-positive mothers, and be cared for them, just as any mother would care for her baby. You bring innovation to women and children who would otherwise not have lived.
  • UNICEF acts to protect mothers and babies in an emergency. Breastfeeding is important to child survival and good health in an emergency. Your quick action supports our rapid response.
  • UNICEF works with business, unions, governments and international partners like the International Labour Organisation to change policy that will improve the lives of women and children. You act and give voice to UNICEF’s powerful work for change.

Help us reach more mums

UNICEF is supporting mums throughout the world to protect and nourish their newborns everyday.

As a UNICEF Global Parent, you can help us reach more families with this lifesaving care.