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World Breastfeeding Week

Last week was World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), it is held every year at the beginning of August as an annual celebration to promote breastfeeding for newborns for at least the first six months of their lives. The evidence is that this yields many health benefits, provides critical nutrition, and protects them from diseases such as pneumonia, ear infections, and stomach bugs. It is also an important step that promotes bonding between the mother and her infant. Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of asthma, type 1 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasize the value of breastfeeding for children and mothers. They recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then supplemental feeding for a further one year and up to two years. 

World Breastfeeding Week endorses the Innocenti Declaration made in August 1990 by WHO and UNICEF to protect and promote breastfeeding.

The celebration of World Breastfeeding Week is spread over more than 120 countries. This year, WBW2022 will focus on strengthening the capacity of actors to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in different levels of society. These actors make up the “warm chain” of breastfeeding support. The Warm Chain campaign places the mother-baby pair at the center. It can link different actors across the health, community and workplace sectors and provide a continuum of care during the baby’s first 1000 days.

Target audiences include governments, healthcare systems, workplaces and communities. World Breastfeeding Week aims to inform, educate and empower them to strengthen their capacity to provide breastfeeding-friendly environments.

The Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)

World Breastfeeding Week works alongside the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which UNICEF and WHO launched in 1991-1992. Its most recent publication sets out the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, which stipulates that every facility providing maternity services and care for newborn infants should:

  1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
  2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
  3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within a half-hour of birth.
  5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
  6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk unless medically indicated.
  7. Practice rooming in – allow mothers and infants to remain together – 24 hours a day.
  8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
  9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
  10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support

Looking ahead, the WBW-SDG 2030 campaign (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030) highlights the important links between breastfeeding and good nutrition and its ability to promote social change and eliminate inequalities. Breastfeeding can contribute to all seventeen of the UN-SDGs.

Looking back to World Breastfeeding Week 2021

Last year’s World Breastfeeding Week was marked by a joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Some of the points they made will be just as relevant for WBW2022, including:

“Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond offer a powerful line of defense against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses.

In many countries, the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week is a time to revisit the commitments made at the start of this year by prioritizing breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies. This includes:

  • Ensuring the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – established to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry – is fully implemented by governments, health workers and industry.
  • Ensuring health care workers have the resources and information they need to effectively support mothers to breastfeed, including through global efforts such as the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative, and guidelines on breastfeeding counseling.
  • Ensuring employers allow women the time and space they need to breastfeed; including paid parental leave with longer maternity leave; safe places for breastfeeding in the workplace; access to affordable and good-quality childcare; and universal child benefits and adequate wages.

Now is not the time to lower our ambitions. Now is the time to aim high. We are committed … ensuring that every child’s right to nutritious, safe and affordable food and adequate nutrition is realized from the beginning of life, starting with breastfeeding.”

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