Breastfeeding Protects Babies from Water-borne Diseases, says UNICEF

August 13, 2015

NEW YORK (August 13, 2015) – UNICEF stresses the importance of breastfeeding as continuing rainfall and surging floodwaters increase the risks to children and their families. Flood waters are now inundating Myanmar’s Bago and Ayeyarwaddy regions.

The number of children and families affected by floods continues to rise with the total now at 1.1 million people, of which nearly 390,000 are children. More than half of the affected are women, including more than 21,000 pregnant women and over 20,000 lactating women. As it becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee water sources are safe, the importance of breastfeeding to infant health is even more critical. Diarrhoea and water-borne diseases can be fatal for young children.

“Right now the biggest needs are clean water, food, and nutrition”, said UNICEF’s Chief of Advocacy, Partnership and Communication Alison Rhodes. “As floods have started to recede in some areas, rehabilitation and recovery has to kick in very quickly to restore basic services for children.”

The shortage of safe and clean water, and lack of access to basic sanitation, increase the risk for children of contracting water-borne diseases. UNICEF and partners have been sending out radio messages in local languages on basic hygiene and nutrition practices, reaching over 4 million in affected areas.

“Drinking contaminated water causes diarrhoea, which is one of the top causes of under-5 deaths. Mixing unsafe water into food, such as infant formula powder, can be very dangerous. Exclusive breastfeeding is the safest way to feed babies and breast milk has all the nutrients and antibodies to protect their health,” explained Ms. Rhodes.

Together with the Government, UNICEF is working to meet the urgent needs of all children and their families in temporary shelters and those seeking to return home. In addition to joint assessments of immediate relief and early recovery needs in the worst affected areas - in Sagaing, Magway, Rakhine, Bago and Ayeyarwaddy - UNICEF is leading the assessment in Chin State, one of Myanmar’s poorest and hard-to-reach areas.

UNICEF is helping to restore access to safe and clean water and sanitation by building latrines and delivering water purification tablets and hygiene kits.  To safeguard children’s healthy development UNICEF is providing urgent micronutrients, child protection kits and psychosocial support.

“To scale up its support, UNICEF continues to call for funds to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance for all children affected by the Myanmar floods,” Ms. Rhodes concluded.

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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit

For more information, contact:
Marci Greenberg, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2464,