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Breastfeeding: A healthy start for every child’s life

By: Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Representative in Uganda

Breastfeeding: A healthy start for every child’s life

Today, 1 August 2013, is World Breastfeeding Day. It also marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, during which UNICEF and other partners join the Ministry of Health to highlight the critical role breastfeeding plays in a child’s survival, growth and development.

This year’s theme focuses on “Breastfeeding Support for Mothers”.  While it might appear to be natural, many mothers give up breastfeeding exclusively, or stop it altogether, in the first few days or weeks after delivery. The biggest hindrances to breastfeeding include complacency, widespread promotion of breast-milk substitutes, belief that infants need water in addition to breast milk and the issue of breastfeeding and HIV transmission. Lack of support at home, in the community, in health care facilities and in workplaces also hinders breastfeeding.

According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, more mothers breastfeed when they receive support, counselling and education at health centres and in their communities.  Mothers, therefore, need our support to keep breastfeeding as a life-saving practice. They also need support for their own good health and nutrition to be able to adequately feed their babies.  

As UNICEF, we advocate for breastfeeding because it offers all children the healthy start in life that they deserve. Infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than those that are not. Globally, more than 800,000 child deaths are linked to poor breastfeeding practices every year.

Fortunately, this state of affairs can change.

To reduce the avoidable deaths of infants, mothers must be counselled, educated and supported to embrace exclusive breastfeeding for their babies from birth up to six months old, and subsequently continue breastfeeding them until they are two years old.  Increasing breastfeeding can accelerate the reduction of preventable child deaths, and provides the least expensive means to ensure that an infant’s nutritional needs are met.

The recent launch of Option B+ to help eliminate Mother–to-Child Transmission of HIV in Uganda is also making breastfeeding much safer for mothers living with HIV.  When these mothers are offered the relevant treatment in the country’s health centres and hospitals, it should be safe for them to breastfeed their infants exclusively for the first six months, and for one year or beyond with the addition of nutritious complementary foods.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health’s initiative to strengthen continuous care that begins during pregnancy and extends throughout the postnatal period in the context of Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission programmes.

Together, we can support all mothers in Uganda to breastfeed their babies. In turn, the mothers can give their children the greatest gift all: a healthy start in life.

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