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Communication Backgrounder for World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Overview Breastfeeding plays a critical role in reducing child mortality. It is essential in protecting against infectious diseases, provides essential nutrients during the first two years of a child’s life, and helps prevent stunting, a form of chronic malnutrition that affects 165 million children globally. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of long-term conditions such as obesity. Studies also show that breastfeeding promotes cognitive development, thus helping children learn better and become productive adults. World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration marked from 1-7 August that highlights this essential practice. This year it is built around the theme of Breastfeeding Support for Mothers. More mothers breastfeed when they receive support, counselling and education in health centres and in their communities The following key messages support communication efforts by UNICEF and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and are aligned with the communication objectives of ‘A Promise Renewed’ and the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition’ movement, and with UNICEF’s work on child survival and nutrition within the post-2015 agenda.

Key Messages on Breastfeeding Breastfeeding – a baby’s ‘first immunization’ – is the most effective and least costly life-saver the world has ever known. • • • • • • •

Children who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than non-breastfed children.1 More than 800,000 child deaths are linked to poor breastfeeding practices every year.2 Globally, more than half of newborns are not breastfed within the first hour of life. Studies show that initiating breastfeeding immediately after birth can reduce the risk of newborn death by up to 20 per cent, by boosting the child’s immune system.3 A breastfed child is less prone to illness, less of a drain on health care systems, and less likely to require parents to miss work because of the child’s illness. Worldwide, only 39 per cent of children under six months old are exclusively breastfed;4 this number has improved very little in recent decades. The 2013 Lancet Nutrition Series reiterated the advantages of breastfeeding, which have been repeatedly demonstrated through research.

1 ‘A Promise Renewed’ Report 2012, page 21 2 The Lancet, ‘Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries’ May 2013, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)60937-X/fulltext

3 APR 2012, page 21 4 Ibid


More mothers breastfeed when they receive support, counselling and education in health centres and in their communities. • • • • •

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While breastfeeding might appear to be instinctive, that isn’t always the case. Many mothers give up breastfeeding exclusively – or stop completely – in the first few days or weeks after delivery.5 Mothers need support and education on breastfeeding so they don’t abandon this life-saving practice. They also need support for their own good health and nutrition to be able to adequately feed their babies. Counselling, education and support can increase exclusive breastfeeding rates among children less than six months old by up to 90 per cent.6 Breastfeeding is now much safer for mothers living with HIV, thanks to effective drug treatment.7 Exclusive breastfeeding is an essential life-saving practice during crises and emergencies, to protect against communicable disease and malnutrition. Emergency preparedness and response plans should always include breastfeeding counselling and support. Supportive policies and comprehensive programmes8 are needed to optimize the benefits promised by exclusive breastfeeding. These include skilled health providers and community workers, culturally-sensitive education and communication, and protective laws and policies.9 Countries with supportive policies and comprehensive programmes that reach all communities have been able to increase their breastfeeding rates significantly.10 UNICEF supports mothers by advocating for appropriate policies and legislation and assisting countries to expand programmes that promote healthy breastfeeding practices.

The world will not accelerate progress towards reducing child mortality unless breastfeeding programmes are given more attention, commitment and investment. •

Breastfeeding is essential for achieving progress on child survival, growth, and development goals. Increasing breastfeeding rates will accelerate the reduction of preventable child deaths.

5 World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, ‘World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Action Folder’, http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/pdf/wbw2013-af-eng.pdf 6 The Lancet, ‘Evidence-based interventions for improvement of maternal and child nutrition’, Page 7, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)60996-4/fulltext

7 A large body of evidence on HIV and infant feeding in recent years shows that giving antiretroviral drugs either to the HIV-infected mother or HIV-exposed infant can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV through breastfeeding, to as low as 1-5 per cent.

8 For more information visit: http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/ 9 UNICEF draft speech for World Breastfeeding Week 2013 10 Mangasaryan N. et al Breastfeeding Promotion, Support and Protection: Review of Six Country Programmes. 2012. http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/4/8/990


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Breastfeeding is the preventive intervention with the greatest life-saving potential and is highly cost-effective. It is also one of the simplest, healthiest and least expensive ways to ensure an infant's nutritional needs are met. Breastfeeding programmes are a good investment. Gains include large savings for healthcare systems and employers, increased economic activity and long-term growth resulting from reduced poverty11 and inequity.12 Political will and community buy-in are essential to implement comprehensive infant feeding programmes.

Breastfeeding ensures the best and most sustainable start in life; it is a basic right of every child. •

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Breastfeeding is the best way to give all children everywhere the healthiest start in life. Successful breastfeeding programmes that reach all communities with education, counselling and support bring about a shift in which the practice becomes the social and cultural norm. A breastfed child is healthier and more intelligent,13 which helps advance his or her prospects in life. Breastmilk is a natural and renewable resource. The use of breastmilk substitutes has a detrimental impact on the environment. Breastmilk creates no pollution and waste and is the most complete food for human life. Breastfeeding only requires the good nutrition of the mother, who passes on the benefits of her health to her child. The inheritance of health is a sustainable solution.

11 Quantifying the Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Summary of the Evidence. Leon-Cava N. et al. PAHO (2002). http://www.linkagesproject.org/media/publications/Technical%20Reports/BOB.pdf

12 Mangasaryan et al 2012, Op. Cit 13 Lancet 2013 Nutrition series paper 1, http://www.childinfo.org/files/NutritionReport_April2013_Final.pdf


Breastfeeding Key Messages