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Worldwide boost in breast-feeding could save 800,000 lives

Staff writer |
If nearly all women worldwide breast-fed their children, there would be about 800,000 fewer children's deaths and 20,000 fewer breast cancer deaths a year.

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That decrease in children's deaths is equivalent to 13 percent of all deaths in children younger than 2 years of age, the study authors reported in a two-part series.

The researchers also said that current breast-feeding practices cost the world's economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

"There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breast-feeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth," series author Cesar Victora, of Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said in a journal news release.

"Our work for this series clearly shows that breast-feeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever," Victora added.

Only one in five children in high-income countries is breast-fed for 12 months, the researchers said. And, only one in three children in low- and middle-income countries is exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months.

This means that millions of children and women don't receive the full benefits offered by breast-feeding, which has been shown to be healthy for both mothers and children, the study authors said.

In a detailed worldwide analysis, the researchers identified a number of benefits of breast-feeding. For example, breast-feeding lowers the risk of sudden infant death in high-income countries by more than one-third, they said.

The study also found that breast-feeding could prevent about half of all cases of diarrhea and one-third of respiratory infections in low- and middle-income countries.

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