First hour of breastfeeding can save more than one million babies
KUALA LUMPUR, 20 July 2007 – This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), observed from 1 to 7 August, highlights the remarkable first hour of life for a mother and baby, and how immediate initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding for six months can save more than ONE million babies.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), breastmilk is so much more than food alone, and early initiation of breastfeeding can save babies by protecting them from diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition. Women have a right to this knowledge and to receive the support that they need to initiate breastfeeding accordingly.
The World Health Report 2005 notes that of the 136 million babies born every year, approximately 4 million die in the first month of life while another 10.6 million die before the age of five. These deaths however are preventable. At least 1.3 million lives could be saved and millions more enhanced every year, if every baby were exclusively breastfed from the first hour of birth for up to six months.
In addition, breastfeeding reduces the incidence of asthma, allergies, childhood cancers, diabetes, Crohn's disease, colitis, obesity, cardiovascular disease and ear infections, while promoting cognitive development and school performance. A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) review of global studies shows that breastfed children have a lower mean blood pressure and lower total cholesterol as adults, as well as higher performance in intelligence tests.
While there is much evidence in support of the critical importance of breastfeeding to a child’s survival and development, many mothers still chose to neither exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of the baby’s life nor continue breastfeeding for the recommended two years or more. Instead, they replace breastmilk with commercial or other substitutes which can be a threat to an infants' health. This is particularly the case if parents cannot afford sufficient substitutes, which are quite expensive, or do not always have clean water with which to mix them.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Ms. Anupama Rao Singh reminds us of the urgent need to do more to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, a call to action which was highlighted at the Joint Regional WHO and UNICEF Technical Consultation on Breastfeeding held in Manila in June 2007.
“The challenge in many countries in this region is to counteract the persuasive trend of a bottle feeding culture, in part spurred by the aggressive marketing of infant formula and weak monitoring and enforcement of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes,” says Ms. Rao Singh.
Opting to breastfeed makes good sense. Not only does it save lives, it also has additional benefits to the family and to community at large. Breastmilk is a renewable source and is free, eliminating the expense of infant formula, bottles and teats and sterilisation equipment. Breastfeeding can also help families with birth spacing by delaying the resumption of fertility after childbirth.
In addition, breastfeeding protects the environment, by eliminating the need to use water and energy to prepare powdered milk and limiting the number of tin and plastic needed to package products.
Today’s challenge to the Government and civil society is to find creative and convincing ways at the community level to encourage breastfeeding. If successful, millions of lives will be saved thereby contributing to the country's progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
NOTE TO EDITORS
ABOUT World Breastfeeding Week
This year’s WBW calls upon policy makers, health workers, families and community members to ensure conducive conditions for mothers and babies to start breastfeeding during the first hour of birth. For more information, visit : http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/
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