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Press release

UNICEF: Breastfeeding can save over 1 million lives yearly

World breastfeeding week starts August 1

NEW YORK, 30 July 2004 – On the eve of World Breastfeeding Week UNICEF said that by expanding the number of women who exclusively breastfeed during their child’s first six months, at least 1.3 million infant lives could be saved this year. UNICEF also called for greater global commitment to protect, and promote breastfeeding. 

Every year more than 10 million children die from mainly preventable causes, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, measles and malaria.  If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth to six months, an estimated 3,500 children’s lives could be saved each day, UNICEF said.

“Simply put, if a child dies a preventable death it’s because mothers and infants are not getting the basic support they need,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.  “Breastfeeding – the most natural act of mother and newborn – has not been supported for what it is: the key to good health and development for millions of children.” 

Bellamy said every mother who chooses to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months has the right to services and support from their governments, communities and families.

Breastmilk contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones, immune factors, and antioxidants that an infant needs to thrive during the first six months of life. Additionally, human milk protects babies from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and stimulates their immune systems.

In the first two months of life, an infant who is not exclusively breastfed is up to 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea and four times more likely to die from pneumonia than a non-breastfed baby. Growth and development may stall and the child stands a greater risk of suffering increased obesity, heart disease, and gastro-intestinal problems in later years.

Yet globally only 39% of babies are being breastfed exclusively in the first 6 months. Advocacy, increasing awareness, and action programmes to support the immense, life-saving benefits of breastfeeding can begin to reverse this. This week, more than 120 countries worldwide will take action to bring attention to this issue by celebrating World Breastfeeding Week 2004 “Exclusive Breastfeeding: The Gold Standard.”

UNICEF supports breastfeeding by working with national governments on policies and action programmes that protect, promote and support breastfeeding, including legislation to protect against commercial bias, health system training and services, and community mobilization.

* * * *

For more information, please contact:

Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Media, New York, 212-326-7566, chajaj@unicef.org
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York, 212-326-7452, kdonovan@unicef.org





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