To unlock the lifesaving potential of breast milk, two United Nations agencies have unveiled 10 steps to help mothers successfully breast feed, kicking off World Breastfeeding Week today.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants because it is safe and gives them the nutrients necessary for healthy development. It also contains antibodies to protect infants from common childhood illnesses.
Although exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is on the rise in many countries, the agency believes that further improving these rates is crucial to bolster the nutrition and health of infants and children.
Too many mothers, WHO said, stop breastfeeding exclusively a few weeks after delivery for many reasons, such as lack of breastfeeding counseling.
Some 35 per cent of infants between the ages of 0 and 6 months are solely breastfed worldwide, said Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHO's Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development.
“But if all babies and young children were breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and then given nutritious complementary food with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age, the lives of an additional 1.5 million under five would be saved every year,” she added.
Developed by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding are aimed at providing the right start for every infant and are currently used in hospitals in more than 150 countries.
They include helping mothers begin breastfeeding within half an hour of birth, allowing mothers and infants to remain together for 24 hours a day, and giving no artificial teats or pacifiers to breastfeeding infants.
One third of the nearly nine million deaths every year among children under the age of five are due to malnutrition, which causes disease and deaths. Most of these deaths occur during the first few months of life and are often linked to inappropriate feeding practices such as bottle-feeding.
“Increasing breastfeeding rates is a key component of the plan to improve infant and young children nutrition,” said Rand Saadeh, Coordinator of the Nutrition in the Life Course unit at WHO.
“A renewed effort to make more hospitals 'baby friendly' has the potential to give millions more babies a healthy start in life.”
First observed in 1992, World Breastfeeding Week – which seeks to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life – is now observed in more than 120 countries and is celebrated from 1-7 August annually.