Promoting and protecting breastfeeding
Protecting, promoting and supporting exclusive breastfeeding in West and Central Africa
In West and Central Africa, exclusive breastfeeding could save hundred of thousands of the three million children under five who die annually.
Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for newborns. It has the potential to avert 13 per cent of all under-five deaths.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for child survival
Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding could be the single most important child survival intervention in the region. Exclusive breastfeeding alone has the potential to avert 13 per cent of all under-five deaths in the region, thus significantly contributing to the realization of MDG 1 and 4.
Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for newborns. It reduces the incidence and severity of infectious diseases, thereby lowering infant morbidity and mortality. Beyond providing physical warmth and reinforcing the immune system, it also contributes to the women’s health and provides social and economic benefits
In West and Central Africa, infants and young children are particularly affected by malnutrition – one third of children under five are underweight. Beyond poverty, poor feeding practices – particularly suboptimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices for infants and young children – are the major cause of child malnutrition along with other preventable diseases.
However, while still low, rates of exclusive breastfeeding in West and Central Africa have seen significant improvement in recent years. Several countries, including Benin and Ghana managed to raise their rates of exclusive breastfeeding significantly over the 10-year period. The challenge is to ensure that other countries make rapid progress in this area.
Support for mothers does work
This means promoting the benefits of breastfeeding at the community level to ensure that each and every mother is supported. This includes the creation of community structures such as mother to mother groups, health system support to breastfeeding mothers, health worker, community health worker and lay counselor training, workplace support and assisting breastfeeding mothers affected by emergencies, HIV and other crises. It includes promoting health education on this key life-saving practice.
Support for breastfeeding mothers is particularly important in the context of the global commodity price crisis, in which young children are at increased risk of malnutrition. Exclusive breastfeeding for the six first months of life and continued breastfeeding until the infant is two years old and beyond represents the best way to protect the nutritional status of young children in communities vulnerable to the impact of rising food prices.
The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes
Currently, more than 25 years after the International Code was adopted, different countries in the region are at different stages in the process of adopting and enforcing legislation to implement the provisions of the International Code and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions. [learn more]
Country examples of initiatives to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding in West and Central Africa
Meeting the challenge of universal exclusive breastfeeding in Togo
Promoting exclusive breastfeeding in Benin: a success story
Mother's groups support breastfeeding mothers in Niger
Mauritania: making exclusive breastfeeding a priority
Protecting breastfeeding: implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Subsitutes in West and Central Africa