Swiss Foundation and Yale School of Public Health Partner to Increase Breastfeeding Globally

The Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation of Zug, Switzerland, has awarded a $680,000 grant to the Yale School of Public Health to develop the Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index to accurately measure the effectiveness and progress of breastfeeding promotional programs around the world.

The project seeks to identify concrete measures that a country can take to sustainably increase its breastfeeding rates. Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Ph.D., professor at the Yale School of Public Health and a breastfeeding expert, is the project’s lead researcher.

Human milk bestows a wide range of health benefits to infants, including essential nutrients for development, growth and improved protection against death and common childhood illnesses. Breastfed infants also end up having better intellectual development than formula-fed infants. Breastfeeding also has a variety of health benefits for mothers, helping them prevent excessive blood loss after giving birth and lessening the chances of developing chronic diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

While the World Health Organization recommends human milk as the sole source of nutrition for infants until they reach six months of age (and then continued together with safe and nutritious complementary foods for at least two years of age), exclusive breastfeeding rates remain low and vary widely among countries and cultures around the world. It is estimated that less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age worldwide are breastfed exclusively.

Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective maternal-child-nutrition interventions ever documented.

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla

“Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective maternal-child-nutrition interventions ever documented, given the many benefits,” said Pérez-Escamilla. “I’m very proud of this project because The Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index will be based on a breastfeeding scaling-up model that I developed with my Yale team, this model identified the essential ingredients of large-scale successful breastfeeding protection, promotion, and support programs.

The grant from the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation will be used over the next two years to help improve exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. The Breastfeeding Friendly Country Index will be a metric to assist governments in assessing their readiness for and progress with scaling up of their breastfeeding programs. The index will be validated in several countries before global dissemination and uptake.

Pérez-Escamilla and his research team will be accompanied and supported by representatives from various international organisations such as the World Health Organization as well as represented countries as diverse as Mexico, Canada and Bangladesh.

He has published over 150 scholarly articles on breastfeeding promotion, iron deficiency anemia among infants, household food security measurement and community nutrition programs worldwide. Pérez-Escamilla’s expertise in the area of breastfeeding and infant nutrition, coupled with the many resources of Yale and the School of Public Health, makes him the “perfect partner” for this project, said Janet Prince, the foundation’s program manager.

The Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation was founded in 2013 with the mission of promoting exclusive breastfeeding to improve infant health worldwide. In addition to its Global Breastfeeding Action Plan, the foundation is also establishing professorships in human lactology at leading universities around the world, is developing an online support tool for mothers who have questions about breastfeeding as well as a major breastfeeding promotion, protection and support reference book.

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This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on September 29, 2015.

Breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective maternal-child-nutrition interventions ever documented.

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Rafael Perez-Escamilla

Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences)