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Six million babies now saved every year through exclusive breastfeeding

A Moor woman breastfeeds her baby outside her home in the village of Teyarett in Mauritania.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 21 November 2005 – Fifteen years ago the Innocenti Declaration launched an initiative that would come to save the lives of millions of babies. It sought a commitment from governments to support and encourage exclusive breastfeeding, which UNICEF believes gives children the best start in life. And since the launch in 1990 global breastfeeding rates have risen by 15 per cent.

Breast milk provides complete and perfect nourishment for infants, boosting their immune system and protecting them from potential killers such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Exclusive breastfeeding also minimises an infant’s exposure to potentially unsafe food or water, and now saves an estimated six million lives every year.

But too many babies are still dying because they’re not being breast fed.

“Research shows that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months – with continued breastfeeding for the first year – could save 1.3 million lives every year,” says Miriam Labbok, UNICEF Senior Advisor on Infant and Young Child Feeding.

“This is well over 3,000 lives each and every day. And if breastfeeding is continued alongside appropriate complementary feeding until at least age two – we could be saving 5,500 additional lives each and every day of every year.”

The Innocenti Declaration also inspired a ‘baby-friendly’ hospital initiative where women are supported and encouraged to breast feed exclusively. There are now 20,000 such hospitals around the world.

“Breastfeeding is considered to be a child’s first immunization,” says UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “It’s critical to efforts to combat hunger and promote child survival as well as progress towards the Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality by 2015.”

UNICEF strives to create an environment that will enable mothers to make the best possible choices in feeding their infants and young children. It does this by promoting policies and systems that improve health skills and support communities in educating mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding.




21 November 2005:
Jane O’Brien reports on the 15th anniversary of the Innocenti Declaration.

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21 November 2005:
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Innocenti Declaration.

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