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Make Breastfeeding easier for mothers, says UNICEF

1 August 2012

Make Breastfeeding easier for mothers, says UNICEF

New York, 1 August 2012 – On the 20th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF says strong national policies supporting breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of around 1 million children under five in the developing world each year.

Despite compelling evidence that exclusive breastfeeding prevents diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia that kill millions of children every year, global rates of breastfeeding have remained relatively stagnant in the developing world, growing from 32 per cent in 1995 to 39 per cent in 2010.

“In the Pacific breastfeeding rates dropped for a number of reasons, either because mothers were being integrated into the workforce, were not supported by their spouses or were not making informed decisions about the long-term benefits breastfeeding would bring to their children. Exclusive breastfeeding (i.e breastfeeding from birth to six months) are about 40% in Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, and 31% in the Republic of Marshall Islands,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Dr. Isiye Ndombi.

He added that “Breastfeeding is a precious gift of nature. It helps to prevent a number of diseases in childhood and later in life. It offers protection from infections, allergies and adult-life chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and cancer that rob the national budgets of millions of dollars.”

“If breastfeeding were promoted more effectively and women were protected from aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, we would see more children survive and thrive, with lower rates of disease and lower rates of malnutrition and stunting,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

Some of the roadblocks to improving breastfeeding rates are widespread and unethical marketing by makers of breast milk substitutes, poor national policies that do not support maternity leave, and a lack of understanding of the risks of not breastfeeding.

“No formula can substitute the importance of breastmilk for children’s survival, growth and development. Also, the economic savings of breastfeeding are critical not only for governments, but also for poor families who spend large parts of their incomes on infant formula,” said Dr. Ndombi.

In June, world leaders meeting in Washington, D.C., pledged as part of the “Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed” movement to work toward ending preventable child deaths. World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to restate the critical role of breastfeeding in reducing child mortality.

The 2008 Lancet Nutrition Series highlighted the remarkable fact that a non-breastfed child is 14 times more likely to die in the first six months than an exclusively breastfed child. Breast milk meets a baby's complete nutritional requirements and is one of the best values among investments in child survival as the primary cost is the mother’s nutrition.

“Exclusive breastfeeding contributes both directly and indirectly to sustainable development. Evidence has clearly shown that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life not only improves their future growth and educational achievement, but also significantly reduces national health costs and helps prevent chronic malnutrition,” said Dr. Ndombi.

“Breastfeeding needs to be valued as a benefit which is not only good for babies, mothers, and families, but also as a saving for governments in the long run,” said Mr. Lake.

UNICEF works in 190 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. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: or

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