UNICEF celebrates Global Breastfeeding Week by taking the message beyond health clinics
NEW YORK/GENEVA/PRETORIA, 30 July 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 in South Africa only 25.7 per cent of babies aged 0 to 6 months were reported to be exclusively breastfed.
“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. Scientific evidence has shown that breastfeeding could lead to a 13 per cent reduction in deaths of children under five if infants were exclusively breastfed for 6 months and continued to be breastfed up to one year.
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.
Research has also shown that a combination of breastfeeding and the use of antiretroviral treatment can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to babies through breastfeeding. This means that babies born to HIV positive mothers can still benefit from the goodness and powerful nutrients of breastmilk.
“Breastfed is best fed, whether the baby is born in Uganda or England, China or Canada,” said Lake.
Women generally receive information about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding when they go for antenatal care visits, or after they deliver their babies. That is why community health networks should have staff that not only possess updated knowledge and skills to support mothers to start breastfeeding, but also offer guidance and clarification on how to sustain exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and to continue to breastfeed until two years or beyond.
Yet, while breastfeeding rates in the developing world are on the rise in two-thirds of countries with trend data, millions of infants are not benefiting from this life-saving practice.
It is clear that a broader audience of advocates needs to be cultivated using new and creative ways to communicate with mothers and families. Raising awareness beyond the confines of the maternity ward is critical to reach these broader audiences, including children and young people.
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 phone technology, the arts and flash mobs.