On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week (1 to 7 August), UNICEF, along with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), is recommending the provision of increased professional and informal support for breastfeeding mothers.
“Breastfeeding is a key tool in improving child survival said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can avert up to 13 per cent of under-five deaths in developing countries.”
Although there has been progress over the past 15 years, only 38 per cent of infants under 6 months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed. In Nigeria the figure is even lower, rather than increase the gains previously made in exclusive breastfeeding are being eroded. In 1999, 22% of children were exclusively breastfed. This figure came down to 17% in 2003, today only 11.7% of children are exclusively breastfed for six months in Nigeria.
Recent scientific studies have found that education and support for mothers significantly extends the number of months that mothers breastfeed, and is especially helpful in promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Other studies have shown that counseling and support in health facilities have led to increases in the number of mothers who initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life reduces infant mortality linked to common childhood illnesses and under nutrition.
Breastfeeding can reduce the number of deaths caused by acute respiratory infection and diarrhea – two major child killers – as well as from other infectious diseases. It also contributes to the health of mothers, and creates a bond between the mother and child.
Appropriate infant feeding can save lives, ensure optimal growth and development, and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
UNICEF is working with its partners and Governments in many countries to ensure the provision of increased support for breastfeeding mothers, including by health workers, counselors, mother-to-mother support groups, employers, relief workers in emergencies, legislators, the family and community social networks. In Nigeria, we support advocacy and communication to change behaviour to foster the culture of exclusive breastfeeding.