National Breastfeeding Week
Remarks by Mariko Kagoshima, UNICEF Country Representative
With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting the world, the importance of protecting breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is most critical. This year’s theme for National Breastfeeding Week, Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, calls on governments and civil society to protect, promote and support breastfeeding through policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families.
Jamaica’s data on breastfeeding shows that rates of exclusive breastfeeding are critically low. From the last Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), we know that on average, Jamaican mothers only breastfeed exclusively for three weeks, while only 24 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies up to six months. Inadequate breastfeeding practices and the premature introduction of inappropriate foods are impacting the early childhood years in many ways, including facilitating high rates of overweight and obesity in children. This underscores the need for a healthy start in life.
Breast milk has no substitute. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life has been identified as the foundation for achieving optimal health and development throughout the life course and has been shown to:
- Boost a baby’s immune system;
- Support healthy brain development;
- Promote mother-infant bonding and attachment thereby enhancing the baby’s emotional security and mental health and wellbeing for the mother and child; and
- Protect against respiratory and diarrheal disease, overweight and obesity in young children and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) later in life.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, over the past two years, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, UNICEF Jamaica and PAHO, continued our cooperation with many achievements including ongoing counselling of mothers and caregivers and importantly, the certification of the Mandeville Regional Hospital as the sixth Baby-friendly Hospital in Jamaica.
This year’s theme reminds us that supporting breastfeeding involves us all. Women, caregivers and families need a supportive environment, underpinned by evidence-based, family-friendly legislation, policies and programmes to ensure that:
- mothers have the space, time and support they need to breastfeed
- breastfeeding-friendly health facilities are in place
- health and nutrition workers are well-equipped to provide quality counselling to mothers and caregivers
- caregivers and health-care workers are protected from unethical marketing of breast milk substitutes
- communities and workplaces are supportive to breastfeeding mothers
Breastfeeding is a sustainable option for infant feeding and can help to ensure food security for the most vulnerable babies. The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding remains critically important to the attainment of a child’s right to the highest attainable standard of health. We must all continue to work together, to Step Up to uphold this right for the benefit of Jamaican infants and children and generations to come.
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.