UNICEF celebrates Global Breastfeeding Week by taking the message beyond health clinics
Suva, 3 August 2011 - During World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF joins global partners in calling for the benefits of breastfeeding to be broadcast beyond clinics and delivery rooms to the public at large, ensuring that young people both in the developing world and in wealthier countries understand the importance of breastfeeding long before they become parents.
Breastfeeding is directly linked to reducing the death toll of children under five, yet only 36 per cent of infants under six months old in developing countries are exclusively breastfed. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the Pacific range from 23% in Kiribati and 39.7% in Vanuatu to 67% in Nauru.
“With so much at stake, we need to do more to reach women with a simple, powerful message: Breastfeeding can save your baby’s life,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “No other preventive intervention is more cost effective in reducing the number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthdays.”
The powerful benefits of breastfeeding for child survival, growth and development are well known. Many clinics in the Pacific promoting exclusive breastfeeding initiatives have recorded reductions in neonatal admission and increasingly low neonatal fatality case rates. The Ministries of Health attribute this impact to increased breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeeding also plays an important role in preventing stunting (low height for age), a condition that can cause irreversible physical and cognitive damage, and which is viewed as a key indicator reflecting inequities in society. Given its critical importance, UNICEF firmly supports all efforts to accelerate comprehensive efforts to improve breastfeeding rates globally, in every country and with a particular focus on reaching the most disadvantaged and hard to reach populations.
“Breastfed is best fed, whether the baby is born in Uganda or England, China or Canada,” said Lake.
In the Pacific, Ministries of Health, with support from UNICEF and WHO, are working to ensure that every maternity facility practices the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. Already in Fiji, all hospitals have adopted the steps as part of the Baby- Friendly Hospital Initiative, and the initiative is being rolled out in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati and northern Pacific region.
Community outreach is integral part of the baby-friendly approach, with community support groups drawing in women and men to discuss the importance of breast-feeding. Given the importance of tradition and culture in breastfeeding practices, there is a continued need to explore new and creative ways to take communication about breastfeeding out of the maternity wards and into the community.
UNICEF embraces the idea of using all possible means of communication and encourages others to do the same, using the opportunity of World Breastfeeding Week to trigger action the whole year round.
This year’s celebration emphasizes the role that every member of society can play to raise awareness about breastfeeding – a natural and nurturing start to life for infants and mothers. It also emphasizes that communication on breastfeeding should take advantage of non-traditional and newer communication tools such as social networking, blogs, mobile phones and the arts.