The best thing a mother can do for her newborn is breastfeed - which does more than help children survive, it helps them to thrive with benefits that last a lifetime, said the United Nations today, kicking off World Breastfeeding Week.
"Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five unnecessary deaths. That's more than 500,000 children every year. More than 1,500 children every day," said Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), in a letter marking the start of the Week.
But despite being the simplest, smartest, and most cost-effective ways of supporting healthier children, stronger families, and sustainable growth, fewer than half of the world's newborns benefit from breastfeeding. Even fewer are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
To shift this trend, UNICEF says it is important to change social practices by working first and foremost with communities and families to encourage more mothers to breastfeed.
"Breastfeeding is the foundation of good nutrition, reducing the risk of malnourishment in early childhood and the risk of obesity later in life. By supporting nutrition and strengthening the bond between mother and child, breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development," Lake added.
World Breastfeeding Week - celebrated every week from 1 to 7 August in more than 170 countries - highlights the vital role breastfeeding plays in the lives of children. And this year's celebration "Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal - for Life!" underscores the crucial link between breastfeeding and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This linkage is especially clear when it comes to achieving MDG 4 - decreasing child mortality.
Since 1990, the number of children under the age of five dying from preventable causes declined by a remarkable 47 per cent. But nearly 7 million young children still die every year - and over 40 per cent of those are newborns. Breastfeeding also helps prevent stunting - a global tragedy that affects millions of children, undermining both their physical and cognitive development and the future health of their societies.
Everyone in society must do their part in promoting such life-saving benefits including all sectors - nutrition, maternal, newborn and child health, early childhood development, and communication for development. Such an integrated approach is absolutely vital in increasing the effectiveness of promoting breastfeeding, Lake said.
He highlighted the importance of global campaigns that support breastfeeding and educate new mothers of the benefits. Major international advocacy efforts such as A Promise Renewed that work to reduce preventable child mortality and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN) that reduces stunting. Meanwhile, the Global Newborn Action Plan supports the inclusive of breastfeeding counselling in community maternal and newborn care programmes.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods could then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.