Breastfeeding has important benefits throughout a child’s life. It reduces the risk of overweight and obesity and protects children from negative health consequences throughout the life course.
Breastfeeding gives children the healthiest start in life. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients needed for the first six months of life and continues to partially fulfill children’s nutritional needs until age 2 and beyond, alongside nutritious complementary foods. The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies are universal and apply as much to industrialized societies as to low- and middle-income countries.
The short-term benefits of breastfeeding are well-known: breastfed babies are more likely to survive, and breastfeeding
provides children with critical protection against infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, respiratory infections and gastrointestinal and allergic diseases.
Breastfeeding also has long-term health benefits for children, including reducing their current and future risk of overweight and obesity.
As global rates of overweight continue to rise, the role of breastfeeding in prevention is critical. Some 40 million children under five worldwide are already affected by overweight. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of school-aged children with overweight and obesity nearly doubled and is rising rapidly across every continent. Against this backdrop, prevention is an increasing priority for many countries.
The prevention of overweight should start as early as possible, and improving breastfeeding practices in the earliest years of life can help set children on the path to a healthy diet and a brighter future.