Sunday, February 7, 2016 4:54 am
Babies who are breastfed experience lifelong benefits, including increased intelligence and improved immunity, said Werner Schultink, chief of nutrition of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Breast milk is the most optimal food for newborns — it contains exactly the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals — it is basically completely geared towards their needs,” Schultink said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
Breastfed children are less likely to develop childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, but they are also less likely to develop diabetes or obesity later in life, he said.
Perhaps even more compelling are the cognitive benefits for children who are breastfed.
“Breastfed children on average gain three IQ points compared to peers who are not breastfed,” said Schultink, who has a PhD in human nutrition and has worked for UNICEF since 1999, referring to intelligence quotient, a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence.
However, breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit babies; mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast cancer, and the cognitive and health gains associated with breastfeeding also benefit society as a whole, said Schultink.
These and many other benefits of breastfeeding were confirmed by a recent series published by The Lancet.
“The Lancet publication shows very clearly that is not one single caring practice which has such a large impact on child survival,” said Schultink, adding that breastfeeding is still important even in so-called developed countries.
“The data in the Lancet also shows that even in the United States, China, Europe the benefits of breastfeeding are incredible,” he said.
The comprehensive series covered not only the health benefits of breastfeeding but also the economic and environmental benefits.
However, globally breastfeeding rates are far too low, Schultink said, including in China where the Lancet data shows breastfeeding has decreased in recent years.
“Globally about 35 percent of children in the age of zero to six months are exclusively breastfed — that number is far too low,” said Schultink. “I hope that over the coming years we will see in China breastfeeding rates are also going to go up as is also happening in many other countries in the world,” he said.
*Reported by Xinhua