1 August 2006 In a developing country, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today at the start of a weeklong commemoration of the most natural way to nourish babies.
“World Breastfeeding Week gives us an opportunity to advocate for a very simple way to save children’s lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Though breastfeeding rates are increasing in the developing world, an estimated 63 per cent of children under 6 months of age are still not adequately breastfed. As a result, millions of children start their lives at a disadvantage.”
World Breastfeeding Week is observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners, including the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization. The aim is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, enabling babies to gain tremendous health benefits, critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases and better growth and development.
Continued breast feeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding, officials say.
In an effort to give children the best possible start to life, UNICEF is working with new mothers around the world to ensure that their babies are properly fed.
In Gambia, for example, the agency has assisted in the creation of baby-friendly communities where breastfeeding is protected, encouraged and supported. The programme works with both women and men to educate them on the benefits of proper maternal and infant nutrition.
Breastfeeding can save lives in emergency situations where clean water is scarce and children are susceptible to life threatening illness such as diarrhoea. In Jogyakarta Indonesia, the epicentre of the May earthquake, UNICEF is leading an initiative to promote continued breastfeeding for children. One-hundred local women have been trained as breastfeeding counselors, visiting mothers with infants who are particularly vulnerable to disease.
World Breastfeeding Week 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. To date, more than 60 governments have enacted all or many of the provisions of the Code as law.
The Code aims to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting the advertising and aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and other artificial supplies. Despite the progress made since the Code was adopted by the World Heath Assembly in 1981, challenges remain, and monitoring of Code violations is weak in some countries.
“It is in the developing world, where under-nutrition contributes to about half of all deaths of children under five, where we see the worst consequences of non-compliance of the Code,” Ms. Veneman said.