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Increasing breastfeeding is a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Breastfeeding Series from The Lancet launched in Beijing


BEIJING, 22 September 2016– Breastfeeding babies from birth to six months has long been recognised as bestowing numerous health and mental health benefits to the babies as well as to their mothers. But recent findings that speak to increased intelligence in breastfed babies, improved gut health that actively fights disease and improves nutritional status – are leading experts to promote exclusive breastfeeding not only as a fundamental driver in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, but as an important contribution to China's ambitious plan to eradicate poverty by 2020. 

©UNICEF/China/2016/Yang Jingjie
David Clark (middle), Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF, and Chang Suying (second from right), Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF China, join a panel discussion at the China launch of The Lancet Breastfeeding Series in Beijing on 22 September, 2016.

At the China launch of the series of breastfeeding papers published by The Lancet, participants concluded that breastfeeding not only saves hundreds of thousands of lives but adds hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy each year. The meeting held today in Beijing is hosted by the China Development Research Foundation and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation), The Lancet, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

In recent years, evidence regarding the importance of breastfeeding has grown exponentially. At the same time however, women and their partners have not understood the importance of breastfeeding, causing rates of breastfeeding exclusively for six months to drop, leaving babies reliant on manufactured products that cannot deliver on the economic promise that breastmilk delivers. The Breastfeeding Series released in January by The Lancet, one of the most renowned medical journals in the world, offers the most authoritative research findings on breastfeeding at the global level. The latest findings of The Lancet papers show that the health and economic benefits of breastfeeding are huge: increasing breastfeeding rates could save hundreds of thousands of lives and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy each year. Other benefits, such as reduced incidence of non-communicable diseases, increased intelligence of children and reduced healthcare costs, are clearly reported.

Lu Mai, Secretary General of China Development Research Foundation, said, "Supporting and promoting breastfeeding is essential to healthy growth and development of infants and to the improvement of our citizenry. It is a mother's responsibility to breastfeed her child; it is society's responsibility to promote breastfeeding. It is our collective responsibility to give every child a bright start in life."

Addressing the meeting in a video message, Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said, "As an advocate – but as importantly as a woman and mother – I believe passionately in the benefits of breastfeeding. It's not only good for babies. There is strong evidence that breastfeeding has significant health benefits for mothers too, particularly in reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. It's time to overcome these challenges and to prioritize and promote breastfeeding."

"The papers make a strong case for investment in breastfeeding, which is a cornerstone of children's survival, health, growth and development and contributes to a more prosperous and sustainable future," said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative to China. "Every parent wants to do the best for their children.  Yet many are skipping the one step that can make their babies and children stronger and more intelligent than any other step – that is breastfeeding.  It is not formula – the voice of substitute companies is loud but it is not giving parents the best advice. We need to listen to the evidence, to institute policies and programmes that protect, promote and support breastfeeding – including in every workplace, and we need health workers, employers, communities and families to join the efforts to create and sustain a favourable environment for breastfeeding."

Committed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, the Government of China has enacted related laws and regulations, including the Administration Method on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, and has assessed and reviewed the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative nationwide. The National Health and Family Planning Commission also leads advocacy campaigns every year during the World Breastfeeding Week. All such efforts have played a highly positive role in helping parents understand why they must prioritise breastfeeding.

However, challenges still remain in expanding the breastfeeding coverage in China. China's hospital delivery rates are one of the highest in the world. This provides a wonderful opportunity for health workers to place the baby immediately after birth in the mother's arms, helping her position the baby for painless breastfeeding. However, few mothers initiate breastfeeding early, indicating a gap in such support. As the majority of urban female employees need to return to their jobs after a maternity leave, better and more facilities to support breastfeeding at work would greatly increase and sustain breastfeeding. Places to breastfeed quietly as needed by the baby are missing in most workplaces, including in most public buildings. Furthermore, marketing by the large and growing breast-milk substitute industry in China continues to undermine breastfeeding, which could be addressed by improved reinforcement of existing regulations.

With the right information, women are making and are supported by their husbands to make informed breastfeeding choices. An increased willingness to breastfeed is noticeable on social media. According to the evidence provided in The Lancet breastfeeding series, this may be the first sign that trends are changing in favour of improved breastfeeding rates.


About China Development Research Foundation
The China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) is a public foundation initiated by the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC). Its mission is to advance good governance and public policy to promote economic development and social progress.

Registered in 1997, the Foundation is a relatively young institution but is already recognized on the world stage as a think-tank on public policy issues. Under leadership of the DRC, the Foundation works in partnership with leading universities, institutions, private enterprises, and government agencies. It also works with international partners in undertaking distinguished programs, such as the China Development Forum and executive training programs. 

About Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that all lives have equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to reduce inequity around the globe. We fund new ideas to fight poverty, disease, and lack of access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunity. We develop and encourage innovative partnerships so shared resources and ideas will do the greatest good for the most people. Our vision is a world in which all people have the chance to live healthy, productive lives. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:


For further information please contact:
Xia Tian, CDRF, +8610 64255855 ext. 8086,
Liu Li, UNICEF China, +8610 85312612,
Guang Li, Gates Foundation China Office, +8610 84547509,

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