Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week

03 August 2022
breastfeeding 2022
UNICEF Srbija/2021/Szabo

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 1 August 2022  “As global crises continue to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever.

“This World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings. 

“During emergencies, including those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. It offers a powerful line of defense against disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.

“Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses.

“Yet the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.

“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025.

“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for protecting our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants.

“That is why UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to:

  • Prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts.
  • Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.
  • Protect caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.
  • Implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed. 
Data from the MICS 6 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey from 2019 shows the following:
Although significant progress has been made in the field of breastfeeding support in Serbia in the last few years, only 1 in 4 children in the general population was exclusively breastfed in the first 6 months of their life, which gave them the advantage, compared to other children, of receiving the highest quality nutrition in the first months, the first and most important natural protection against dangerous diseases, a greater chance to grow healthy, in the circle of safety and closeness with his mother. Children at this age from Roma settlements can boast of this advantage even less, because only 8.3 per cent of them are exclusively breastfed.

After birth, in the first three days of life, less than 40 per cent of children in Serbia received mother's milk as their first meal. Likewise, only 7.7 per cent of newborns started their breastfeeding experience in the first "golden" hour for both the baby and the mother, although it is known that colostrum, an irreplaceable and protein-rich milk that contains antibodies, leukocytes, immunoglobulins, stem cells , protects the baby from infections and serious diseases, and is secreted in the first 5 days after birth. Early initiation of breastfeeding has a strong influence on the success and persistence of breastfeeding in later months.

Breastfeeding is one way to ensure a healthy start in life for every child, especially in crisis situations, and it is equally beneficial for babies and mothers in the first six months, and later, when solid foods are introduced, until the second year of life. It is necessary to make additional efforts to increase the percentage of children who are breastfed in their first year of life, which now amounts to only 26.7 per cent in the general population and 48.1 per cent in the population living in Roma settlements).


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