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Helping Mothers Breastfeed to Give Every Baby the Best Start in Life
Breastfeeding after birth is natural, but it isn't always easy. That's why UNICEF and the World Health Organization are calling on governments and all partners to share responsibility for prioritizing breastfeeding-friendly environments for nursing mothers and their babies. In the U.S., this includes supporting the bipartisan Reach Every Mother and Child Act.
It's a solid investment in the health of children, moms and the planet. Babies who start nursing within an hour after birth, breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue for up to two years receive natural protection from all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children a year, generating $302 billion in additional income.
Since 1981, there has been a 50 percent increase in exclusive breastfeeding worldwide: An estimated 900 million infants have enjoyed the survival, growth and developmental benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in infancy. But the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted breastfeeding support and increased risk of food insecurity and malnutrition, proving just how fragile these gains can be.
Doctors emphasize it's safe to continue breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through breast milk. Vaccinated mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding or expressing milk. All mothers are advised to breastfeed while practicing good hygiene, washing hands with soap before and after touching their baby, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces they've touched.
Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies, but it's more than a meal: it can give newborns the boost they need to fight off infection. It's a baby's first vaccine, offering protection from many childhood illnesses. Women who receive skilled counseling from lactation consultants, health care professionals or peer support providers are more likely to start and continue breastfeeding. Above, a UNICEF-supported midwife shows a mother best breastfeeding practices at Kasanda Health Center in central Uganda. © UNICEF/UNI353032/Abdul
Breastfeeding after birth gives babies the best possible start in life. It's also part of a sustainable food system. Breast milk is the perfect food: it's always clean, and always the right temperature for breastfeeding babies. Above, UNICEF-supported nutritionist Dessy Sandra Dewi and colleagues make their way down a steep path to visit breastfeeding mothers in their homes in Paseban Village, Bayat, Klaten, Indonesia. © UNICEF/UNI347326/Ijazah
In Yako, Burkina Faso, 38-year-old Zalissa (above) gave her older children water and solid food when they were infants, which led to health problems and malnutrition. At UNICEF workshops, the mother of eight learned that exclusive breastfeeding is best for the first six months of a baby's life. "Thanks to the workshops, I am convinced that my son Loukman will grow well and that he will succeed in life," she says." I am happy that my son is healthy."
Breastfeeding after birth also provides emotional benefits for babies and mothers. It reduces stress for nursing mothers, and breastfed babies are calmer and cry less overall. Above: Fiona, a working mother in China, managed to breastfeed her baby for 28 months, with the support of her family along with UNICEF and partners. © UNICEF/China/Jerry Liu
Top photo: A new mother holds her baby, sleepy and full of breast milk, at a UNICEF-supported breastfeeding workshop at a health center in Caracas, Venezuela. © UNICEF/UNI343511/Pocaterra