Breastfeeding Can Save 1.3M Children Annually, WHO Says To Mark World Breastfeeding Week

About 1.3 million children’s lives could be saved each year by teaching new mothers how to breastfeed, but many women do not receive help and stop trying, the WHO said on Friday ahead of the start of World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from August 1 through August 7, Reuters reports. “Less than 40 percent of mothers worldwide breastfeed their infants exclusively in the first six months, as recommended by the WHO,” the news service writes. Constanza Vallenas, a WHO medical officer in the Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, said women “don’t have the practical support” to help them get their infants to latch on properly and find a technique that prevents pain and discomfort. Vallenas said the problem exists in both rich and poor countries, and she called for “more assistance in hospitals, health clinics and communities for new mothers who need information and help,” according to Reuters (MacInnis, 7/31).

Raising the global breastfeeding rate to 90 percent could prevent the deaths of about 13 percent of all children under the age of five in the developing world, she said, VOA News reports. “It gives the nutrients and the immune factors that are important for protecting infants against the most serious infections they can get, which is diarrhea and pneumonia,” according to Vallenas. “It also protects against malnutrition. The recommendation we have along with UNICEF is that infants should be exclusively breast fed, meaning without even water until six months of age. And, from there on to continue breast feeding with appropriate complimentary foods until the age of two years or beyond” (Schlein, 8/1). 

This year, World Breastfeeding Week focuses on breastfeeding’s “ciritcal role” during emergencies, the U.N. News Centre writes. In a statement, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said, “As part of emergency preparedness, hospitals and other health care services should have trained health workers who can help mothers establish breastfeeding and overcome difficulties.” Chan added, “Emergencies amplify the risk of infant and young child mortality. With appropriate action, we can protect these precious lives through one of the most ‘natural’ of all life-saving interventions” (8/1).

In related coverage, Xinhua published an article featuring comments from Joan Younger Meek, chair of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (7/31), AIM/ reported on activities in Mozambique (7/31) and the Times of India published an article that includes details about the practice in India (7/2).

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