Every year, from 1 to 7 August, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated worldwide to encourage breastfeeding, thus improving the health of babies around the globe. Breastfeeding babies, for the first two years, would save the lives of more than 820 000 children under the age of five, annually.

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As the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends  on its web site, “Breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need…(we) recommend exclusive breastfeeding, starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. Nutritious, complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond,”

World Breastfeeding Week commemorates the Innocenti Declaration – designed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding – was signed by policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other government organizations . Presently, WHO and UNICEF are partners in promoting the importance of  breastfeeding babies within that crucial first hour of life. Skin-to-skin contact and suckling at the breast stimulates the production of breastmilk. The colostrum in the breast milk, extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies, is also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’.

“Breastfeeding saves lives. Its benefits help keep babies healthy in their first days and lasts well into adulthood,” says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore. “But breastfeeding requires support, encouragement and guidance. With these basic steps, implemented properly, we can significantly improve breastfeeding rates around the world and give children the best possible start in life.”

  • Initiating  breastfeeding, within an hour of birth, protects the new born from getting infections while reducing infant mortality.
  • Only breastfeeding for the first six months has many benefits – chief among these being protection against gastrointestinal infections and malnutrition, which can happen in both developing and developed countries.
  • Breast-milk is an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged between 6–23 months. It provides half or more of a child’s energy needs between 6-12 months; and one-third of the child’s energy needs between the ages of 12-24 months.

The basics of breastfeeding

  • Breastfeed whenever your baby seems hungry. Look out for signs of hunger such as sucking noises, hands moving toward mouth, or the baby turning toward your breast
  • Babies normally feed for 10 to 20 minutes, on each breast
  • A new born should nurse every two to three hours, that’s 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Sometimes your baby may nurse even more frequently
  • To feed comfortably, put up your feet and support your arms and head with pillows

The advocates of breastfeeding argue that breastfeeding is completely natural. But, don’t feel guilty if you can’t breastfeed. You make have to go to work. Or, maybe you aren’t making enough milk to support your baby. There have always been mothers who could not successfully breastfeed due to low supply of milk, latching issues, or a baby’s inability to gain weight from a mother’s milk. So, while breastfeeding works for many, there are others who have no option but to use formula. In such cases, greater convenience, the necessity of working outside the home, or insufficient milk has caused some mothers to bottle feed.

Research has confirmed that breast feeding provides immunity, optimal nutrition and contraceptive protection. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “that in many hospitals and communities around the world, whether a child can be breastfed or not can make the difference between life and death, and whether a child will develop to reach his or her full potential.”

“Hospitals are not there just to cure the ill. They are there to promote life and ensure people can thrive and live their lives to their full potential,” says Dr Tedros. “As part of every country’s drive to achieve universal health coverage, there is no better or more crucial place to start than by ensuring the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding are the standard for care of mothers and their babies.”

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