“Breastfeeding acts as a baby’s first vaccine, providing critical protection from diseases and death” - UNICEF

On the launch of the 2021 World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF reiterates the need to protect and promote good breastfeeding practices during the COVID-19 pandemic

02 August 2021

Baghdad, 2 August 2021- Today marks the launch of the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), an awareness-raising campaign to remind everyone that breastfeeding is every baby’s best source of nutrition, bolstering brain development and with lifelong benefits for mother and baby. Breastfeeding is a cornerstone of infant and young child survival, nutrition, growth and development, and maternal health. The week will promote the use of digital materials with information on best practices on breastfeeding and other related content for mothers and families.

Under the theme of WBW 2021, “Protect breastfeeding, a shared responsibility”, UNICEF is calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counseling, a critical component of breastfeeding support, and to ensure safe spaces conducive to breastfeeding in homes, communities and workplaces alike.

In Iraq, barely 1 out of every 3 children[1] receive breastfeeding within the first hour of life, a key indicator of support for breastfeeding that is associated with the successful establishment of breastfeeding and child survival. The statistics are even worse on the other key indicator on breastfeeding, with only one in four Iraqi children breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life[2] (based on the 2018 Iraq Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey).

UNICEF recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to age 2 years and beyond, as a powerful line of defense against all forms of childhood malnutrition and many communicable diseases, and consolidating the mother-child bond.

Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers and it is part of a sustainable food system. But while breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy. Mothers need support from their families and all involved stakeholders, both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding especially, during the COVID-19 pandemic with its associated social upheaval and changes in healthcare and work practices.

Vaccine effectiveness is expected to be similar in lactating women as in other adults. UNICEF recommends vaccination in lactating women as in other adults and does not recommend discontinuing breastfeeding because of vaccination.

In addition, UNICEF recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counseled that the numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission to the newborn or young infant, who are very rarely affected by the virus.

“During this terrible pandemic, it is our shared responsibility more than ever, through our commitment, strong action, and joint work to ensure that all mothers have access to skilled breastfeeding support and counseling, empowering them to give every baby everywhere the best possible start in life,” said Sheema Sen Gupta, UNICEF Representative in Iraq.

UNICEF works in Iraq to strengthen breastfeeding-related policies, supporting the government to align national policies and guidelines with international standards. UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health on the implementation of the baby-friendly hospitals initiative and considering infant and young children feeding practice as a cornerstone in early childhood development, the key to ensuring full brain development. Furthermore, UNICEF is advocating to strengthen the application in Iraq of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes; this Code was endorsed by the Iraqi Parliament in 2015.

UNICEF will continue to support the Government of Iraq, the private sector, and civil society to protect breastfeeding and ensure that all babies in Iraq can develop at their maximum potential.


[1] 32%, according to MICS 2018 – available at: https://www.unicef.org/iraq/media/481/file/MICS6.pdf

[2] 26%, according to MICS 2018 – ibid.

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