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Breastfeeding: A simple way to save young lives


NEW YORK, 1 August 2006 – In a developing country, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not breastfed, UNICEF said today at the start of World Breastfeeding Week.

“World Breastfeeding Week gives us an opportunity to advocate for a very simple way to save children’s lives”, said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Though breastfeeding rates are increasing in the developing world, an estimated 63 per cent of children under 6 months of age are still not adequately breastfed. As a result, millions of children start their lives at a disadvantage.”

World Breastfeeding Week is observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners, including the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization. The aim is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development. Continued breast feeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding.

In an effort to give children the best possible start to life, UNICEF is working with new mothers around the world to ensure that their babies are properly fed.

In Gambia, for example, UNICEF has assisted in the creation of baby-friendly communities where breastfeeding is protected, encouraged and supported. The programme works with both women and men to educate them on the benefits of proper maternal and infant nutrition.

In emergency situations where clean water is scarce, children are susceptible to life threatening illness such as diarrhoea. Under such circumstances breastfeeding is a major life-saver. In Jogyakarta Indonesia, the epicentre of the May earthquake, UNICEF is leading an initiative to promote continued breastfeeding for children. One-hundred local women have been trained as breastfeeding counselors, visiting mothers with infants who are particularly vulnerable to disease.

World Breastfeeding Week 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. To date, more than 60 governments have enacted all or many of the provisions of the Code as law.

The Code aims to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting the advertising and aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. Despite the progress made since the Code was adopted by the World Heath Assembly in 1981, challenges remain, and monitoring of Code violations is weak in some countries.

“It is in the developing world, where under-nutrition contributes to about half of all deaths of children under five, where we see the worst consequences of non-compliance of the Code,” Veneman said.

Breastfeeding and good nutrition for children are critical for achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly the goals relating to child survival, such as reducing the rate of under-5 child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

UNICEF works with partners, governments and communities to protect and promote breastfeeding by supporting national infant-feeding legislation, improving ante- and post-natal care and boosting resources for new mothers at the community-level. Supporting breastfeeding during emergencies is also a major UNICEF priority, when poor feeding practices can contribute to infant mortality.


For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.


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