Breastfeeding prevents 220,000 deaths among children: WHO

ISLAMABAD – World Health Organization (WHO) has said that globally, breastfeeding has the potential to prevent 220,000 deaths among children under five each year.

According to WHO, all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. It said that unfortunately actual practice is low which is only 38% in the world despite the fact that breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need.

The Network for Consumer Protection advocacy officer Robina Bhatti said that the implementation and enforcement of International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant Health Assembly Resolutions (the code) are critical for an environment that supports proper infant and young child feeding and for the attainment of Millennium Development Goal 4 (reduce child mortality).

This report summarises the progress countries have made in implementing the Code. It is based on data received from WHO Member States between 2008 and 2010 and on information for 2011 from UNICEF, she added. She said breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development, and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases.

Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea or pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness, she added. She said that breastfeeding contributes to the health and well-being of mothers, it helps to space children, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, increases family and national resources, is a secure way of feeding and is safe for the environment.

"While breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behaviour. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding practices."

She said WHO and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in 1992, to strengthen maternity practices to support breastfeeding. The BFHI contributes to improving the establishment of exclusive breastfeeding worldwide and, coupled with support throughout the health system, can help mothers sustain exclusive breastfeeding.

Dr Wasim Khawaja from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) said that breast milk is the natural first food for babies as it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life. He added it continues to provide up to half or more of a child's nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.

He said over the past decades, evidence for the health advantages of breastfeeding and recommendations for practice have continued to increase. He said that breastfeeding reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend into adulthood.

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