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UNICEF calls for the gift of support this Mother’s Day

UNICEF calls for the gift of support this Mother’s Day to help narrow breastfeeding gaps between rich and poor

Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, 1 in 5 babies in wealthy countries are not breastfed at all, compared to just 1 in 25 in poorer countries.

Kiwi babies enjoy some of the highest initial breastfeeding rates in the world, but much more support is needed to ensure those breastfeeding rates continue, according to new analysis by UNICEF.

Worldwide, the number of babies missing out on breastfeeding remains high, particularly among the world’s richest countries. Approximately 7.6 million babies each year are not breastfed. The United States alone accounts for more than one-third of the 2.6 million babies in high-income countries who were never breastfed.

The analysis indicates that even though breastmilk saves lives, protects babies and mothers against deadly diseases, and leads to better IQ and educational outcomes, an estimated 21 per cent of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed. In low-and-middle-income countries, the rate is 4 per cent.

Research released by the NZ Medical Journal found 97% of Kiwi babies are initially breastfed. However, figures from Plunket show that New Zealand’s exclusive breastfeeding rate drops to 52% by six weeks, suggesting much more work is required to support breastfeeding mothers.

For those mothers able to breastfeed, UNICEF encourages breastfeeding within the first hour after birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more.

“Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child,” said Vivien Maidaborn, Executive Director of UNICEF NZ. “As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we must give the world’s mothers the support they need to breastfeed.”

“We know that in poor countries it is wealthy mothers who are least likely to breastfeed their babies. But it’s often the opposite in wealthy countries – where poorer mothers are the ones who are least likely to breastfeed,” said Ms Maidaborn.

”It’s a strong indication that countries, regardless of the level of wealth, are not helping every mother to breastfeed her baby.”

The Unicef analysis found babies are much more likely to be initially breastfed in countries like Bhutan (99%), Madagascar (99%) and Peru (99%) than those born in the United Kingdom (81%), the United States (74%), France (63%), and Ireland (55%).

While reasons for higher breastfeeding rates vary around the world, the research notes that almost all mothers in New Zealand give birth at a baby-friendly facility, where mothers are able to receive breastfeeding guidance and assistance. Additionally, support from fathers, families, employers and communities is extremely important.

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