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World breastfeeding week 2017 highlights the importance of partnerships to achieving health and economic benefits of breastfeeding

Ha Noi, 1st August 2017 – With the theme “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”, World Breastfeeding Week 2017 commences today, reinforcing the importance of strengthening partnerships with governments, non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, development partners, the private sector and others to advance policies and programmes for improved breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding is not just a one-woman job. It requires encouragement and support from skilled counsellors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers and others. We commit to working with all stakeholders to create an environment that helps all women and children to thrive,” said Assoc. Prof. Le Danh Tuyen, Director of the National Institute of Nutrition.

A recent surge in global evidence has shown that improving breastfeeding practices is critical to increasing maternal and child health and also spurring economic growth. The Lancet 2016 series on breastfeeding found that it can lower health care costs and contribute to a stronger workforce. The cost of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding amounts to about US$300 billion annually, representing 0.49 of global gross national incomes. Recent research by leading health economists on the Cost of Not Breastfeeding in Southeast Asia* with support from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Alive & Thrive, estimates that optimal breastfeeding practices can save US$23.36 million per year in health systems expenditures due to reduced treatment of child illnesses and prevent US$70.4 million in annual wage losses by improving the learning abilities of children cognitive losses in Viet Nam.

However, globally, only 40 per cent of children younger than six months are breastfed exclusively (given breastmilk only) for the first six months of life. This is according to The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, a new report released today by UNICEF and World Health Organisation (WHO). Only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 per cent.

A new analysis demonstrates that an annual investment of only US$4.70 per newborn is required to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50 per cent by 2025. “Our new analysis suggests that meeting this target could save the lives of 520,000 children under the age of five and potentially generate US$300 billion in economic gains over 10 years, due to reduced illness and health care costs and increased productivity. In Viet Nam, improved breastfeeding can save 2,011 children’s lives annually, an important contribution to reducing overall under-five child mortality1,” said Dr. Friday Nwaigwe, Chief of the Child Survival and Development Programme of UNICEF Viet Nam.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, an e-learning programme on infant and young child feeding was launched on 31st July 2017 by the National Institute of Nutrition, Alive & Thrive and Ha Noi University of Science and Technology. The e-learning programme is based on an approved curriculum by the Ministry of Health to provide certified training to existing and new health professionals, and consists of twenty topic areas with an estimated duration of 48 hours.

“Health workers play a critical role in providing families with skilled support for breastfeeding and complementary feeding for optimal health and development. This innovative and interactive e-learning course gives learners across Viet Nam the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills directly from experts while using their computers, tablets or smart-phones. This approach is convenient for students, saves time and costs, and ensures sustainability and scale compared to traditional learning methods”, said Roger Mathisen, Programme Director of Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia. The e-learning course can be accessed from the Little Sun website: or directly from

UNICEF has partnered with the business community to promote exclusive and continued breastfeeding in the workplace, thus demonstrating their implementation of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. UNICEF Viet Nam and iCare Benefits, a social enterprise offering employee benefits programmes in the workplace, will launch a campaign to increase awareness and practice of exclusive and continued breastfeeding among working mothers in factories. The upcoming campaign aims to reach out to 2 million iCare members in Viet Nam, who are primarily female migrant workers and mothers. It will also look into engaging factory management on the issue.

“Our survey with factory workers in May 2017 showed that despite some awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, maintaining exclusive and continued breastfeeding practices after maternity leave is a real challenge to new moms. In addition to building awareness among new moms and pregnant workers about the importance of exclusive and continued breastfeeding and how to express and store breast milk, we will advocate with the Labor Union and Human Resources Department to deploy new tools and policies, such as time allocation for expressing and enhanced access to lactation rooms/equipment. It is important for companies and their management to support female migrant workers,” says Trung Dung, iCare Benefits CEO & Founder.

Breastfeeding is critical to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals. It improves nutrition (Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger), prevents child mortality and decreases the risk of non-communicable diseases (Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Well-being), and supports cognitive development and education (Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Quality Education). Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth and reducing inequalities.

For further information, please contact:

  • Ms. Huynh Nam Phuong, Deputy Director - Food and Nutrition Training Center, National Institute of Nutrition (Tel: 84-24-39724031, Email:
  • Ms. Vu Thi Thu Ha, Alive & Thrive (A&T) PR and Advocacy specialist (Tel: 84-936630589; Email:
  • Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Communications (Tel: 84-24-35581474; Email:


* Walters, Dylan et al., The cost of not breastfeeding in Southeast Asia. Health Policy and Planning, 2016.



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