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World Breastfeeding Week Highlights Benefits To Infant, Child Nutrition, Health

Kicking off World Breastfeeding Week Sunday, the WHO together with UNICEF emphasized the importance of the agencies’ 10 steps to successful breastfeeding to improve health of infants and children around the world, VOA News reports (Schlein, 8/1).

“Breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need,” the WHO said in a statement. “WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months old, and continued breastfeeding with the addition of nutritious complementary foods for up to two years or beyond” (undated).

“Although exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is on the rise in many countries, the agency believes that further improving these rates is crucial to bolster the nutrition and health of infants and children,” U.N. News Centre writes.

“Some 35 percent of infants between the ages of 0 and 6 months are solely breastfed worldwide, said Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHO’s Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development,” the U.N. News Centre continues. “But if all babies and young children were breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and then given nutritious complementary food with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age, the lives of an additional 1.5 million under five would be saved every year,” according to Mason (8/1).

“WHO says malnutrition is responsible for one-third of the nearly nine million deaths among children under age five every year,” VOA News continues. The majority of these deaths take place within the first months of life and are linked to poor feeding practices, according to Bernadette Daelmans, a Medical Officer in the WHO’s Division for Newborn and Child Health and Development.

The article also notes the long-term benefits breastfeeding can have on children and into adulthood (8/1).

The 10-step checklist includes such pointers as “helping mothers begin breastfeeding within half an hour of birth, allowing mothers and infants to remain together for 24 hours a day, and giving no artificial teats or pacifiers to breastfeeding infants,” U.N. News Centre continues (8/1).

The checklist also recommends the establishment of breastfeeding support groups for mothers to participate in once released from the hospital, according to VOA News. According to the WHO, the breast-feeding checklist is used by hospitals in over than 150 countries, the news service writes (8/1).

“First observed in 1992, World Breastfeeding Week … is now observed in more than 120 countries and is celebrated from 1-7 August annually,” U.N. News Centre writes (8/1).

In related news, IRIN/Plus News reports that “[h]ealth and nutrition experts in Zimbabwe are worried that one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the region could have a negative impact on the country’s prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programme.”

According to a recent national nutrition survey, 6 percent of mothers in Zimbabwe reported breastfeeding their infants until they reached six months, the news service writes. The survey also revealed “that at least one-third of Zimbabwean children under the age of five were malnourished, with around 12,000 at risk of dying from poor nutrition. The survey associated these widespread nutritional problems in children with the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding,” IRIN/PlusNews writes.

“The findings of the survey are very disturbing because we know that when HIV-positive mothers practice mixed feeding this greatly increases the risk of them passing on HIV to their babies,” UNICEF spokesperson Tsitsi Singizi said, according to the news service.

The article examines reasons mothers may stop breastfeeding children early, including their own poor nutrition status, the recent WHO recommendations for HIV-positive mothers to begin taking antiretrovirals at 14 weeks of pregnancy through the end of breastfeeding, and the challenges resource-strapped antenatal clinics face in trying to achieve these recommendations.

Mduduzi “Mbuya [research scientist with Zvitambo, a research organization working to improve HIV services for women and children] said if children had already fallen through the cracks of the PMTCT programme, not being exclusively breastfed would further lower their chances of survival. HIV-positive infants are more susceptible to malnutrition, placing them at higher risk from life-threatening opportunistic infections,” IRIN/PlusNews writes (7/30).

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