Exclusive breastfeeding in COVID-19 still baby's healthiest start in life
First vaccine, best source of nutrition, and bolsters brain development
Statement by UNICEF Jamaica Country Representative, Mariko Kagoshima, in support of National Breastfeeding Week, observed September 13-19:
UNICEF is very proud to partner with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Pan American Health Organization in the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding. We know from decades of evidence that breastfeeding saves lives. Research shows that by increasing breastfeeding rates we could save the lives of more than 820,000 children worldwide every year.
Breastfeeding is a vital part of providing every child with the healthiest start in life. It is a baby’s first vaccine and best source of nutrition, and can bolster brain development. Breastfeeding also nurtures national economies. Increased rates of breastfeeding can improve a country’s prosperity by lowering healthcare costs and producing stronger, more able workforces. But breastfeeding is not just a one-woman job. It requires encouragement and support from skilled counsellors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers and others.
In Jamaica, UNICEF is proud to have worked closely with the Regional Health Authorities to certify three maternity facilities in the public health sector as baby-friendly. These hospitals have committed to ensuring that mothers get the information and skills they need to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, followed by complementary foods and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond. This is extremely important in Jamaica, where exclusive breastfeeding rates are low. UNICEF has also equipped the National Infant and Young Child Feeding Network with kits to support early and exclusive breastfeeding for newborns through counseling support and training for new parents.
As we all grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on Jamaica’s children and their families, UNICEF remains steadfast in our commitment to support the promotion of breastfeeding. This is even more urgent as we consider the economic impact of not breastfeeding on families. The work of the National Infant and Young Child Feeding Network, even through the pandemic, has been immeasurable. Counseling support is critical as many women have serious challenges with breastfeeding. It can be a frustrating experience and prompts many women to give up and revert to less healthy alternatives. We acknowledge the good work being done, in spite of the challenges, to ensure the best start to life for every newborn.
We take this opportunity to encourage all breastfeeding mothers who have COVID-19, or suspect that they do, to continue breastfeeding – while observing all the necessary hygiene precautions. Breast milk provides antibodies that give babies everywhere a healthy boost and protect them against many infections. Antibodies and bio-active factors in breast milk may fight against COVID-19 infection, if baby is exposed. Active coronavirus has not been found in breast milk, and transmission via breastfeeding has not been demonstrated. Close contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps a baby to thrive, and the unparalleled benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risk of transmission.
We also encourage everyone in families and workplaces to provide as much support as possible to breastfeeding mothers, as they provide vital, life-saving nutrition for their babies.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Jamaica, visit www.unicef.org/jamaica.