World Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from August 1st to the 7th to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF, and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Since 2016, WBW is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers, forming a sustainable food system. But while breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy. Mothers need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.
Skilled counseling services can ensure that mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, the advice, and the reassurance they need to nourish their babies optimally. Breastfeeding counseling can help mothers to build confidence while respecting their circumstances and choices. Counseling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeeding, such as providing unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children.
For nursing women, breastfeeding gave protection against breast cancer, improved family planning (birth spacing), and might also protect against ovarian cancer and Type 2 Diabetes. The scaling up of breastfeeding to a near-universal level could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than five years and 20,000 annual deaths from breast cancer.
Increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding can help drive progress against other global nutrition targets (stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age, low birth weight, childhood overweights, and wasting) and is one of the most powerful tools policy-makers have at their disposal to improve the health of their people and their economies. Policymakers should consider prioritizing the following actions to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to at least 50%:
- Provide hospital- and health facilities-based capacity to support exclusive breastfeeding, including revitalizing, expanding, and institutionalizing the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative in health systems;
- Provide community-based strategies to support exclusive breastfeeding, including the implementation of communication campaigns tailored to the local context;
- Significantly limit the aggressive and inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes by strengthening the monitoring, enforcement, and legislation related to the International code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions;
- Empower women to exclusively breastfeed by enacting six months mandatory paid maternity leave, as well as policies that encourage women to breastfeed in the workplace and public;
- Invest in training and capacity-building in exclusive breastfeeding protection, promotion, and support.
Global Status of Breastfeeding
Optimal breastfeeding is vital to the lifelong good health and wellbeing of women and children.
WHO and UNICEF recommend:
- Early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
- Continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond, introducing nutritionally adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at six months.
Scaling up efforts to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates requires actions at the health-systems, community, and policy levels. Evidence shows that countries with policies and programs most closely aligned with recommendations set out in the WHO and UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding have the most success at raising levels of exclusive breastfeeding. It is essential to create an enabling environment through policy and legislation.