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Young child survival and development

World Breastfeeding Week highlights the role of health professionals

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 30 July 2010 – Every year, nearly 9 million children die before their fifth birthday. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to reduce that toll.

VIDEO: 29 July 2010 - UNICEF Chief of Health Mickey Chopra discusses the importance of breastfeeding in reducing child mortality.


As World Breastfeeding Week 2010 begins, UNICEF has joined a worldwide movement encouraging mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies.

‘Best possible start’

“Breastmilk is the best food a baby can have and breastfeeding gives a child the best possible start in life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0640/Asselin
Fatimata Koroma, 18, breastfeeds her 14-day-old baby, Hendry Jalloh, in the maternity ward in Sierra Leone. Abdullai Dukurey, a medical assistant, shows her how to hold the baby.

World Breastfeeding Week begins on 1 August. This year’s theme, ‘Breastfeeding: Just 10 Steps – the Baby Friendly Way,’ focuses on the authority that health-care workers have in influencing mothers’ behaviour.

UNICEF is working with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization to educate policy-makers, donors, partners, health-care workers and the public about the benefits of breastfeeding.

The 10 steps outlined by the project have been implemented in more than quarter of all hospitals worldwide that deliver babies. Experience has shown that the steps make mothers more confident and more likely to exclusively breastfeed their children in the first six months.

“It’s a relatively straightforward and very exciting intervention which we strongly feel that all facilities that deliver babies or even interact with babies after they’ve been born, should be undertaking,” said UNICEF Chief of Health Dr. Mickey Chopra.

Changing behaviours

While early initiation of breastfeeding contributes to reducing overall neonatal mortality by around 20 per cent, the vast majority of mothers do not exclusively breastfeed their children. However, a number of countries have shown that this can be changed quickly, even in the most challenging circumstances.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1168/Gangale
Fatima Hassan carries her four-month-old baby, Hazara, in Mao, Chad. A local women’s group convinced Ms. Hassan to exclusively breastfeed when Hazara was born.

And while influencing the attitudes of mothers is the ultimate goal, health-care workers play an important role in the 10-step project.

“Health workers have a profound and very important influence on what mothers decide about how to feed their children,” said Dr. Chopra. “And therefore educating and changing the behaviours of health workers is very important.”



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