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Press release

Marking 'World Breastfeeding Week,' UNICEF says breastfeeding saves lives even amid war

World Breastfeeding Week, 1 - 7 August 2003

NEW YORK, 6 August 2003 – As part of the celebration of World Breastfeeding Week 2003, UNICEF today called for continued commitment to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

The theme of this year's breastfeeding celebration is "Peace and Justice," with an emphasis on the enormous benefits of breastfeeding even in the most perilous settings. UNICEF said that even in the midst of war, breastfeeding is a vital avenue to health, nutrition, survival and protection for every young child.

“Breastfed children are the most likely to survive when supply lines are cut, when electricity fails, when homes are destroyed or when epidemics occur,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.  “As long as the mother and baby can breastfeed, the baby can thrive.”
Breastmilk alone is the ideal nourishment for infants for the first six months of life as it contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones, immune factors and antioxidants an infant needs to thrive. It protects babies from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and stimulates their immune systems.

"Today, it is clearer than ever that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding with appropriate foods make a significant contribution to the survival, health, development, nutrition and emotional well-being of the young child," Bellamy said.
UNICEF data on child survival presented recently in The Lancet medical journal showed that optimal breastfeeding could save more infant lives than almost any other single measure.  Every year more than 10 million children die from mainly preventable causes, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, measles, malaria and HIV/AIDS.  If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth to six months, and continued for a few months thereafter, an estimated 1.5 million lives would be saved each year.
In addition to this profound impact on child mortality, breastfeeding:

  • improves maternal recovery and reduces cancers
  • lowers family expenditures for food and health care
  • improves micronutrient and protein/energy status thus increasing productivity
  • contributes to fertility reduction
  • supports the environment, reducing firewood, pharmaceutical, plastics and dairy industry waste.
  • decreases absence in the workplace due to decreased family illness.

UNICEF supports optimal breastfeeding by advocating with national governments to adopt favourable policies that protect, promote and support breastfeeding, including the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, baby-friendly hospitals and health care to ensure the best start on breastfeeding, and community support for social change necessary for women to feel secure in breastfeeding and complementary feeding.
Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that governments must ensure that all sectors of society know about the positive benefits of breastfeeding.  "Breastfeeding is a right of mothers and is a fundamental component in assuring a child’s right to food, health and care,” said Bellamy. "Governments and communities should embrace and support this right."

“In emergency and disaster situations, breastfeeding is usually the only way to guarantee safe feeding for infants,” Bellamy observed.  “Breastfeeding is an invaluable gift that can be given to any child anywhere in the world.  Let us protect breastfeeding and protect our children.”

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For further information, please contact:

Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York: 212-326-7516
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York: 212-326-7452
Damian Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: 41-22-909-5517




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