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Breastfeeding: The critical start to life

UNICEF BIH Breastfeeding promotive poster

Sarajevo, 1 August 2006   In a developing country, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not breastfed, UNICEF said today at the start of World Breastfeeding Week: August 1-7, 2006.

“World Breastfeeding Week gives us an opportunity to advocate for a very simple way to save children’s lives”, said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Though breastfeeding rates are increasing in the developing world, an estimated 63 per cent of children under six months of age are still not adequately breastfed. As a result, millions of children start their lives at a disadvantage.”

Unfortunately, although Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) is not considered a developing country, estimations show that only 6% of mothers in this country exclusively breastfeed their babies during the first six months of their lives. The percentage of extended breastfeeding during the first 24 months is  significantly higher at 40%.

In its efforts to improve the breastfeeding rates, UNICEF in BIH supports the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. This programme began in 1995 to ensure that babies were given a healthy start in life and that mothers were supported by health staff to be successful in breastfeeding their new born babies immediately after delivery. Out of a total of 40 maternity wards in BIH, 55% of them, or 22 wards have been certified as “Baby Friendly”. Fifteen more maternity wards have expressed their interest in the initiative. So now, some 60% of women in BIH are giving birth to their children in the Baby Friendly hospitals, respecting the 10 steps for successful breastfeeding procedures. These procedures set the standards to make delivery more supportive of the mothers, to improve the quality of health care for future parents and newborns, and to enable mothers to successfully start and continue breastfeeding.

The major obstacle for sustainability of breastfeeding promotion programmes in BIH is the aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes and the fact that the companies producing the infant formula, are taking advantage of the lack of legislation that could prevent the violations of International Code on Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

World Breastfeeding Week is observed in more than 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 breast feeding 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.

In an effort to give children the best possible start to life, UNICEF is working with new mothers around the world to ensure that their babies are properly fed.


World Breastfeeding Week 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code seeks to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting the advertising and aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. Despite the progress made since the Code was adopted by the World Heath Assembly in 1981, challenges remain, and monitoring of Code violations is weak in many countries.

To date, more than 60 governments have enacted all or many of the provisions of the Code as law, but unfortunately in BIH, only the Government of the RS has endorsed the Code. However, no monitoring mechanism to assess compliance with the Code has yet been established in the RS.

Breastfeeding and good nutrition for children are critical for achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly the goals relating to child survival, such as reducing the rate of under-5 child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

UNICEF works with partners, governments and communities to protect and promote breastfeeding by supporting national infant-feeding legislation, improving ante- and post-natal care and boosting resources for new mothers at the community-level. Supporting breastfeeding during emergencies is also a major UNICEF priority, when poor feeding practices can contribute to infant mortality.






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