How Breastfeeding Could Help Fight Hunger, Poverty, Other Global Issues

How breastfeeding is linked to clean water and energy conservation -- and can help save lives.

It will cost between $3.3 trillion and $4.5 trillion a year to end hunger, eliminate poverty and achieve 15 other ambitious goals the U.N. hopes to reach by 2030.

But getting help meeting the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals could come from an overlooked resource ― breastfeeding.

World Breastfeeding Week, which ended on Sunday, committed this year’s efforts to demonstrating how the practice may help contribute to achieving the SDGs by improving the health and wellbeing of women and children, and in turn, society at large.

“Increasingly, it is clear that breastfeeding is not only the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development; it is also the foundation of a country’s development,” WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement. “In fact, supporting breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments countries can make in the wellbeing of their citizens ― and thus, in their own long-term strength.”

Here’s how breastfeeding could help the world reach seven of the 17 SDGs. Click here to learn more about the possible connections between the practice and reaching the U.N.’s goals.

How Breastfeeding Fights Poverty
James Akena / Reuters
Sustainable Development Goal No. 1 is to put an end to extreme poverty in all forms everywhere by 2030. Because breastfeeding is a natural and low-cost means of feeding babies, it doesn't burden household budgets and helps contribute to poverty reduction.
How Breastfeeding Helps Fight Hunger
The second SDG aims to end hunger by 2030 and ensure all people have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. For infants, breastfeeding means food security. Children who are breastfed for extended periods get high quality nutrients, energy and are at reduced risk for obesity, hunger and undernutrition.
How Breastfeeding Helps Save Children's Lives
Mariana Bazo / Reuters
Part of the third SDG is to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age. A recent Lancet study concluded that if breastfeeding rates reached near universal levels, 823,000 deaths in children could be prevented every year. A new UNICEF report found that delaying breastfeeding at birth increases the risk of newborn death by 80 percent.
How Breastfeeding Can Promote Education
Sukree Sukplang / Reuters
The fourth SDG aims to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. Breastfeeding helps promote cognitive and mental development and, according to the Lancet, babies who were breastfed for 12 months or more were found to have higher IQs than those who were breastfed for less than a month.
How Breastfeeding Ensures Clean Water For Babies
Vivek Prakash / Reuters
The sixth SDG aims to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. Exclusive breastfeeding provides a baby with all the water she needs. Formula feeding, on the other hand, requires having access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation.
How Breastfeeding Helps Improve Energy Efficiency
The Washington Post via Getty Images
The seventh SDG calls for doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. Breastfeeding is considered energy efficient since it reduces the need for water, firewood and fossil fuels.
How Breastfeeding Promotes Responsible Consumption
Sustainable Development Goal No. 12 aims to reduce resource use, degradation and pollution. Breastfeeding contributes to that goal because it's a natural, non-polluting nutritious food that's non-resource intensive.