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Promoting and protecting breastfeeding

Niger Pirozzi
© UNICEF/Niger/2007/Pirozzi
With exclusive breasfeeding everyone wins: support a woman to provide a golden start for her child

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
Countries in West and Central Africa have some of the highest child malnutrition and mortality rates worldwide. In this region, three million children younger than five years die annually. 56 per cent of child deaths in West and Central Africa could be averted if children were not malnourished.

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

Breastfeeding in West and Central Africa
Breastfeeding is a tradition in every culture in the region, but only 20 per cent of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed, with rates as low as 2 per cent in Chad, 4 per cent in Côte d’Ivoire. The rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the region remain among the lowest in the world (see map and table).In West and Central Africa, infants and young children are particularly affected by malnutrition 

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
Regardless of the socio-economic status, it is instrumental to enable women to successfully breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue breastfeeding with age-appropriate complementary feeds up to two years and beyond.

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
In 1981, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes out of concern that inappropriate marketing practices of breastmilk substitutes were contributing to the alarming decline in breastfeeding rates worldwide and the increase in child malnutrition, morbidity and mortality rates, particularly in developing countries.

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
Mother support groups promote exclusive breastfeeding and child nutrition in Togo

Promoting exclusive breastfeeding in Benin: a success story
Creating a supporting environment for mothers to provide the best start in life for children

Mother's groups support breastfeeding mothers in Niger
Peer groups support breastfeeding mothers in Niger

Mauritania: making exclusive breastfeeding a priority
Protecting breastfeeding and supporting mothers to avert diseases

 

 

 

 

Photo Essay

Publication

Protecting breastfeeding: implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Subsitutes in West and Central Africa

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Map

The state of exclusive breasfeeding in West And Central Africa: a non-optimal practice


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