Breast milk: A life-saving tonic for babies

An increase in the rate of breastfeeding globally could prevent more than 1 million child deaths each year.

By Leonard Makombe, World Vision Zimbabwe; and Shawna Templeton, World Vision U.S.
Published August 1, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

Breast milk is a perfect source of nutrition for babies that can’t be replicated.

While breast milk has proven to be extremely beneficial for all infants around the globe, in poorer communities where clean water, nutritious food, and reliable sanitation are rarely accessible, a mother’s milk can truly save her child.

Nutrition and protection in one

Breast milk provides all of the nutrition that a baby requires for healthy development. An added benefit is that it is readily available and affordable.  

Breast milk also contains antibodies that protect infants from preventable, yet lethal diseases such as diarrhea or pneumonia. In fact, babies who are not exclusively breastfed in the first few months are at seven times more risk of dying from diarrhea than infants who are.

Breastfeeding saves children’s lives. If more mothers breastfed their babies, more than one million deaths of children under five would be prevented each year. 

However, according to the World Health Organization, globally less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.  

Education is critical

World Vision works in communities around the world, building families’ ability to provide the best nutrition possible for their children, which includes teaching mothers about the importance of breastfeeding.

In Zimbabwe, Thembeni Munsaka participated in a World Vision class on breastfeeding to learn how to best feed her baby daughter, Beater Mudimba. 

She and other nursing mothers discussed the emotional and developmental benefits of breastfeeding, both for the mother and the child. Thembeni learned how to hold her daughter while feeding to ensure that Beater receives enough milk and that Beater should be breastfed until she is two years old. 

The mothers also learned that eye contact with the baby while nursing improves the bond between mother and child, and promotes confidence in the baby. 

“I am very grateful that the trainings on infant and young child feeding that I attended have opened my eyes,” says Thembeni. 

The training provided some additional benefits. “As part of the program, we received goats, which we milk, and chickens, which we sell to buy household goods,” says Thembeni.

And this valuable information reaches beyond the training session. “When we meet at the borehole or at the river, we remind each other of what we learned,” says Thembeni. Additionally, she says “We pass the information to those who did not attend.” 

Learn more 

Read 10 facts about breastfeeding

How you can help

Pray for mothers and babies around the world, especially those who lack access to clean water, nutritious food, and medical attention. Pray that these mothers would be armed with the knowledge of the value of breastfeeding and that their communities would support and promote this practice. 

Donate to provide a New Mother and Baby Kit. Your gift provides infant care training as well as a kit that includes a bassinet, diapers, a blanket, a container for clean water, and soap.