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Supporting mothers to breastfeed will improve children’s chances of survival, says UNICEF

NEW YORK/DHAKA, 1 August 2008: On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week (1 to 7 August), UNICEF, along with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), is recommending the provision of increased professional and informal support for breastfeeding mothers.

 “Breastfeeding is a key tool in improving child survival said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can avert up to 13 per cent of under-five deaths in developing countries.”

Although there has been progress over the past 15 years, only 38 per cent of infants under 6 months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed.

Recent scientific studies have found that education and support for mothers significantly extends the number of months that mothers breastfeed, and is especially helpful in promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Other studies have shown that counseling and support in health facilities have led to increases in the number of mothers who initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life reduces infant mortality linked to common childhood illnesses and under-nutrition.

In Bangladesh, in line with the theme of the World Breastfeeding Week 2008, UNICEF has been supporting community-based interventions with mother support groups in selected upazilas through the National Nutrition Programme of the Government of Bangladesh. The full scope of actions needed to improve breastfeeding practices is outlined in the government’s National Strategy of Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF).

“Exclusive breastfeeding is a challenge for many mothers throughout the world including Bangladesh. Every mother faces different challenges to breastfeeding. So, individual concerns need individual solutions with the support of family, community members, government, employers and health professionals. They all must understand the critical value of appropriate breastfeeding and extend all out support to every breastfeeding mother,” said Carel de Rooy, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative.

Overall, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Bangladesh is still as low as 43 per cent. Early initiation of breastfeeding (within the first hour of delivery) is only 24 per cent. If all newborns in this country were to be breastfed within one hour of birth, then about 37,000 neonatal deaths could be averted annually.

Breastfeeding can reduce the number of deaths caused by acute respiratory infection and diarrhea - two major child killers - as well as from other infectious diseases. It also contributes to the health of mothers, and creates a bond between the mother and child.

Appropriate infant feeding can save lives, ensure optimal growth and development, and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

UNICEF is working with its partners and Governments in many countries to ensure the provision of increased support for breastfeeding mothers, including by health workers, counselors, mother-to-mother support groups, employers, relief workers in emergencies, legislators, the family and community social networks.

Note for the Editors
World Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week was first celebrated in 1992 and is now observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners, including the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization. The aim is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development. Continued breastfeeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding.

Breastfeeding Advocacy package
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network of individuals and organizations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide. WABA has an advocacy package and website available at:

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For further information, please contact: 
Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury, UNICEF, Dhaka, Tel: 880 2 9336701-10, Ext 392, email:



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