The Facts about Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive Breastfeeding poster © UNICEF Turkey 2003

Film and television actor, Berna Laçin supports the campaign for exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months.

Basic Facts about Breastmilk

  • The most natural, fresh and best nutrient for all infants;
  • Always safe and free from microbes;
  • Ready at all times without any cost. No special spending;
  • Fully and easily digestible;
  • Fewer incidences of diarrhoea, colic and constipation;
  • Strengthens the immunity system and contributes to muscular and bone development;
  • Contributes to mental development;
  • Fully meets the water requirements of the infant -- there is no need for extra water;
  • Colostrum immediately following birth protects infants from diseases;
  • Builds special feelings of affection between the mother and her child;
  • Breastfeeding contributes to the health of the mother by reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Questions and Answers

Why is breastmilk important for infants?

Breastmilk is the best food for infants during the first six months of life because it supplies all the vital nutrients an infant needs. Breastmilk and the yellowish liquid known as colostrum produced immediately following delivery constitute the first vaccine for infants. Also, breastfeeding is the most effective channel for infants and mothers to build mutual affection. Breastmilk also contributes to the mental development of children.

Why is breastmilk so good for infants?

Breastmilk provides all the nutrients an infant requires during the first six months including protein, fat, iron and vitamins. It is easy to digest and no boiling or preparation is necessary. It is always fresh, safe and ready to be given.

As a natural food, breastmilk has more nutrients than cow’s milk for the growth and development of children. Since breastmilk also has enough water and vitamins, there is no need for extra water even in extremely hot climates and also there is no need for fruit juice for the first six months. Breastfed children grow more intelligent than others who are given breastmilk substitutes and infant formula.

Against which diseases does breastmilk offer protection?

Breastmilk and colostrum protect infants from diarrhoea, colds and coughs. Breastfed children develop more resistance to health problems as such as asthma, allergies and diabetes while it is also known that the child’s risk of contracting cancer is smaller. Breastfed babies avoid anaemia since breastmilk has a sufficient iron content. Finally, incidence of diaper rash, stomach-ache and constipation are far fewer among breastfed infants.

What are the risks to babies who are not breastfed?

Rates of mortality in children who are not breastfed are four to six times higher than for those who are. According to estimates by WHO 1,500,000 infant deaths could be avoided every year if rates of breastfeeding were higher.

For how long should babies be breastfed?

WHO and UNICEF suggest exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months. Breastfeeding should continue until age of two and longer with the introduction of supplementary food after the first six months.

What is the ideal environment for breastfeeding?

Expectant mothers should be informed and instructed about breastfeeding during pregnancy. Both the mother and her newborn baby should remain together for twenty-four hours a day. Breastfeeding should begin within half an hour of birth. Mothers should be instructed about techniques of breastfeeding and how to store their milk when they are separated from their babies. No solid or liquid food other than breastmilk should be given to newborns. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed. Infants should be given no artificial nipples or soothers during the breastfeeding period.

How are babies fed in Turkey?

Only 1.3% of newborns are breastfed exclusively during the first six months. 25% of all children under five suffer malnutrition. Approximately 15% of the population of Turkey are under five and 63,000 of these children die from preventable diseases every year. Out of this figure, 50,000 are children under one year old.

How does breastfeeding contribute to maternal health?

Breastfeeding ensures a special bond of affection between the mother and her baby. Beginning breastfeeding immediately after birth reduces the risk of postnatal anaemia. It is also well established that breastfeeding reduces the risks of urinary tract infections as well as breast and ovarian cancer.

Should babies be breastfed every time they cry?

Yes they should. Newborn babies mostly want to suckle between eight to ten times a day. The frequency of suckling gradually diminishes.

How many maternity hospitals exist in Turkey?

There are 816 hospitals in Turkey with maternity wards and delivery services. The annual number of deliveries in these facilities (2002) is 806,000.

What is a ‘baby-friendly’ hospital?

The Promotion of Breastfeeding and the Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative was launched in 1991 by the MOH. The objective is to encourage breastfeeding and to give new mothers necessary information about breastfeeding and skills by establishing breastfeeding as a routine practice in maternity wards.

To put it more concretely, baby-friendly hospitals are maternity facilities where mothers are informed about the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding throughout pregnancy, where everything is done to ensure that mothers breastfeed their babies immediately after birth and where mothers are assisted in breastfeeding by specially trained health workers.

What is a ‘baby-friendly province’?

A province qualifies as baby-friendly when at least 20% of the maternity hospitals, health centres and Mother and Child Health and Family Planning centres have breastfeeding rooms. Additional requirements include: specially trained heath workers; the availability of breastfeeding consultancy services; a ban on the advertisement of breastmilk substitutes; the withholding of supplementary food from babies throughout the first six months and the supply of relevant information to pharmacists in the area.

How many provinces have baby-friendly hospitals and what is their number?

In Turkey, 62 administrative provinces have baby-friendly hospitals. The annual number of births in these hospitals is 452,000. This means that 56% of annual births take place in baby-friendly hospitals. After an assessment meeting on October 6th this year, the number of baby-friendly hospitals rose to 205, while the number of baby-friendly provinces is now eight. Two administrative districts have also qualified as baby-friendly.

Activities first began with the targeting of hospitals and were expanded in 2001 to cover first-step health facilities that are important in supporting breastfeeding.

How to remain ‘baby-friendly’?

Certified hospitals undergo refresher training every two years as well as routine supervision by central teams from the MOH. While appreciation certificates are awarded to those hospitals and centres that maintain their good practice, the ‘Baby-friendly’ title is withdrawn from others failing to do so.

What is a ‘Mothers’ Support Group’?

Mothers’ Support Groups consist of volunteers who train and support mothers and their helpers in breastfeeding.

How many Mothers’ Support Groups are to be formed in pilot provinces?

The plan is to reach and cover 50,000 birth-giving mothers in İstanbul and Diyarbakır within the first year of the campaign to train and support them as well as their helpers in breastfeeding.

Read more about the campaign to promote Exclusive Breastfeeding During the First Six Months in our Programmes section. The UNICEF Turkey Press Centre has more information about the campaign launch.

Read the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

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