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Supporting mothers to breastfeed will improve children’s chances of survival, says UNICEF

© UNICEF Philippines
In Fabella Hospital, mothers are taught the proper way to breastfeed their newborns.

New York, 1 August 2008
On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week (1 to 7 August), UNICEF, along with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), is recommending the provision of increased professional and informal support for breastfeeding mothers.

 “Breastfeeding is a key tool in improving child survival” said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can avert up to 13 per cent of under-five deaths in developing countries.” Exclusive breastfeeding means the infant receives only breast milk and no additional food, water or other fluids. WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and research has shown this greatly reduces childhood illnesses and undernutrition and the benefits continue into later childhood.

Although there has been progress over the past 15 years, only 38 per cent of infants under 6 months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed.

In the Philippines, UNICEF research reveals that many mothers do not practice exclusive breastfeeding, especially in urban areas. More than 60 percent of babies at 5 months are already receiving liquids or foods as well as breast milk, while another 22 percent are not being breastfed at all.

Recent scientific studies have found that education and support for mothers significantly extends the number of months that mothers breastfeed, and is especially helpful in promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Other studies have shown that counseling and support in health facilities have led to increases in the number of mothers who initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth.

Breastfeeding can reduce the number of deaths caused by acute respiratory infection and diarrhea - two major child killers - as well as from other infectious diseases. It also contributes to the health of mothers, and creates a bond between the mother and child.

Breastfeeding and the introduction of other foods only after 6 months, can save lives, ensure optimal growth and development, and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

UNICEF is working with its partners and Governments in many countries to ensure the provision of increased support for breastfeeding mothers, including by health workers, counselors, mother-to-mother support groups, employers, relief workers in emergencies, legislators, the family and community social networks.

Here in the Philippines, UNICEF provides technical assistance to the Department of Health (DOH) for its breastfeeding projects and supports Mother-Baby Friendly Hospital Initiatives. UNICEF also trains health workers at the barangay level on infant and young child feeding, and strengthens breastfeeding support groups so that mothers support and educate each other on the benefits of breastfeeding.





Key facts

World Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week was first celebrated in 1992 and is now observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners, including the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization. The aim is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development. Continued breastfeeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding.

Breastfeeding Advocacy package
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network of individuals and organizations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide. WABA has an advocacy package and website available here.


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