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Unicef, WHO: Many Babies Miss Out On Breastfeeding Benefits

Unicef and WHO call on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes.

Photo by Samuel Lee from Pixabay.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 1 – To mark World Breastfeeding Week, which commences today until the end of the week on August 7, 2022, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have released a statement 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. 

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, said the Unicef executive director Catherine Russell and WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a joint statement.

“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,” they said. “It offers a powerful line of defence 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, according to the international bodies.

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.

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 the planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants, said Russell and Dr Ghebreyesus.

Unicef and WHO called on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to:

  • Prioritise 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. 

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is a global campaign organised by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action that aims to inform, anchor, engage and galvanise action on breastfeeding and related issues. 

In a statement, the organisation said that although progress has been achieved, the work to protect, promote and support breastfeeding became more of a challenge in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and geopolitical conflicts, which widened and deepened inequalities, tipping more people into food insecurity. 

Limitations to the health system’s capacity led to deterioration of breastfeeding support, and targeted outreach by the breastmilk substitutes (BMS) industry continues to negatively influence parents’ infant feeding decisions.

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