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Breastfeeding can boost economies and save children's lives: UN

NEW YORK — Increasing the number of mothers who breastfeed will save lives, make children smarter and boost global economies, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective, led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, is calling on countries to invest in educational campaigns and health programs to encourage breastfeeding as well as enforcing an international code to prevent the misleading marketing of formula milk.

Only 40 percent of children under 6 months are exclusively breastfed, according to the research, which is the first worldwide analysis of its kind.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of birth and continue until the child is two years old, feeding them exclusively with breast milk for the first six months.

"Breastmilk works like a baby's first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO said in a statement.

If targets for 50 percent of babies to be exclusively breastfed by 2025 are met, 520,000 children's lives could be saved over the next ten years and cognitive boosts could generate US$300 billion in economic gains across lower- and middle-income countries, the World Bank estimates.

Every dollar invested in breastfeeding generates US$35 in economic returns, according to figures from the Global Breastfeeding Collective.

The report calls for an investment of US$4.7 per newborn into efforts to increase the number of babies under six months who are exclusively breastfed – this translates to a global investment of US$5.7 billion.

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