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Global focus on breastfeeding rates

Monday August 2nd, 2010

Breastfeeding holds the key to saving the lives of millions of children, the World Health Organisation said today.

World Breastfeeding Week is held from 1 to 7 August. It is marked by breastfeeding promotion initiatives in more than 170 countries.

The WHO draws particular attention to its ten steps to successful breastfeeding, including having a written breastfeeding policy and training for all health care staff, helping women start to breastfeed within half an hour of birth, and not providing any other food or drink to newborns unless medically necessary.

Other tactics to boost breastfeeding rates include "rooming in", that is, allowing mothers and infants to be together 24 hours a day, encourage breastfeeding on demand, avoiding the use of dummies, and encouraging breastfeeding support groups.

Dr Elizabeth Mason of WHO says that breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is recommended.

She says that around 35 per cent of infants aged up to six months are exclusively breastfed in the world today. "But if all babies and young children were breastfed exclusively for their first six months and then given nutritious complementary food with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age, the lives of an additional 1.5 million children under five would be saved every year."

Over two thirds of deaths from malnutrition among this age group are associated with bottle-feeding or inadequate complementary foods.

Randa Saadeh of WHO adds: "Increasing breastfeeding rates is a key component of the plan to improve infant and young child nutrition. A renewed effort to make more hospitals 'baby friendly' has the potential to give millions more babies a healthy start in life."

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | Women’s Health & Gynaecology | World Health

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