UNICEF: Breastfeeding still best for infants and mothers | Press centre | UNICEF

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Press centre

Press release

UNICEF: Breastfeeding still best for infants and mothers

NEW YORK, 1 August 2002 - Marking the start of World Breastfeeding Week today, UNICEF encouraged more hospitals to join the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, noting that recent studies provide yet more evidence of the many benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers.

"Breastfeeding is still the best source of nutrition and growth for infants," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "This simple act protects children's lives in communities around the world, and it also reduces maternal illnesses. The most recent studies expand our understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding, making it clear that more must be done to support this practice." UNICEF said that not even half of the world's children are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented:

  • Breastmilk has all the nutrients babies need to stay healthy and grow
  • Breastfeeding boosts children's immune systems, protecting them from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections - two leading causes of infant death
  • Breastfeeding helps nurture children and builds the mother-child bond
  • Breastfeeding helps delay the next pregnancy, giving mother and child time to recover and grow.

Recent research has proven that a woman who breastfeeds is less likely to get breast cancer, in a comprehensive study published in The Lancet medical journal. She is also less likely to get many other forms of cancer.

UNICEF said that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, launched in 1991, is an effort to ensure that all maternity facilities, whether free standing or in a hospital, support mothers in making the best infant-feeding choice for them, free of commercial interests. The ultimate goal of the Initiative is to empower every woman to make health-based decisions concerning infant feeding, and, if breastfeeding is her choice, to support her in breastfeeding her children exclusively for six months and to continue breastfeeding, with complementary food, into the second year of life and beyond.

Nearly every country has an authorized committee to certify maternity facilities as baby-friendly. Presently some 15,000 facilities in more than 130 countries have been awarded the status. These facilities help mothers begin breastfeeding within half an hour of birth, allow new mothers and their babies to be together 24 hours a day, and give infants no food other than breastmilk, except for medical reasons. UNICEF said that the Initiative recognizes each mother's right to make her decision based on full and accurate information about feeding options.

"It's not always easy for a mother to breastfeed," Bellamy said. "The pressure of family responsibilities, restrictions in the workplace, and social expectations can, and often do, interfere with a mother's preference to exclusively breastfeed her children. Women must be supported by husbands, communities, healthcare systems, and grandparents when considering what is best - and they must be supported to succeed once a choice is made."

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For further information please contact:

Karuna Nundy, UNICEF Media, New York, knundy@unicef.org,
+1 212) 303-7941





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