On August 1, 2014, the United Nations kicked off World Breastfeeding Week in the hopes of launching a worldwide initiative to educate and encourage more mothers to breastfeed. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in 170 countries around the world from August 1 to August 7.
This year’s particular celebration is focused on promoting the link between breastfeeding and the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG 4: decreasing child mortality.
Among the United Nations officials launching the start of this week was Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake. In a statement marking the importance of World Breastfeeding Week, Lake stressed, “Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five unnecessary deaths…that’s more than 500,000 children every year, more than 1,500 children every day.”
Breastfeeding not only supplies good nutrition for infants, but also reduces the risk of malnourishment and the risk of obesity later in life. “By supporting nutrition and strengthening the bond between mother and child,” said Lake, “breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development.” Breastfeeding also helps prevent growth stunting, a tragedy that affects millions of children every year both physically and cognitively.
Although breastfeeding is the most cost-effective and healthy way to support young babies, fewer than half of the world’s newborns are breastfed regularly.
In order to change this, UNICEF is working with governments and local communities to end false marketing and the use of breast milk substitutes, in order to make it easier for women to breastfeed their infants.
Dr. Noel Zagre, the UNICEF Regional Nutrition Advisor for Equatorial and Southern Africa, explained that too often people talk about breastfeeding in general terms. However, the important thing is to teach mothers how to breastfeed effectively, meaning putting the child on breast milk no more than an hour after birth and continuing to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life.
Although the number of children under the age of five that die each year has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly seven million that die every year. Forty percent of these children are newborns.
Dr. Zagre noted evidence that “many countries are not yet doing very well even though we know that we have also observed a lot of progress in other countries…some countries are still having very low exclusive breastfeeding rates like five percent while others are…reaching 89 to 95 percent.”
The United Nations is determined to institute plans to promote breastfeeding and educate communities and governments around the world about infant health and the importance of breastfeeding effectively. Although progress has been slow, Dr. Zagre noted the importance of bridging the gap between these startling statistics.
– Cambria Arvizo