It is well-recognized that exclusive breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for babies in the first six months of life ― and that breastmilk continues to be an important source of energy and nutrients for up to two years and beyond.
We know that breastfeeding infants is associated with a lower risk of infections and death, improved neurodevelopment, as well as reduced risk of overweight and diabetes later in life. The importance of breastmilk for small babies is even greater, for example through helping protect preterm infants from a life-threatening condition called necrotising enterocolitis. There are many benefits to a mother as well, including greater bonding with her baby and a lower chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
However, the global status of breastfeeding policies and programs tell us that we need to do more to protect and promote breastfeeding and support mothers to breastfeed and provide the best foundation of life. Most mothers want to breastfeed but encounter many barriers that prevent them from reaching their breastfeeding goals. This is true for mothers in all settings, but extra care and support is needed for mothers of preterm and/or low birthweight babies, who experience additional feeding challenges and for whom breastmilk is even more critical to ensure their vulnerable babies survive and thrive.
For all women, support has to start during pregnancy with breastfeeding counselling, as intent to breastfeed is an important predictor of breastfeeding success. This must be followed with support at birth, because timely initiation of breastfeeding is critical, and be sustained with continued support within the health facility, family, community and workplace.
As a member of the Global Breastfeeding Collective, Nutrition International calls on implementers and donors from governments, philanthropies, international organizations, and civil society to intensify efforts to protect, promote and support breastfeeding around the globe.
Nutrition International is committed to protecting, promoting and supporting optimal breastfeeding practices, and is working with national governments and their partners to:
- implement the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience, including support to countries in Asia and Africa to strengthen breastfeeding counselling during pregnancy so more mothers intend to breastfeed and can anticipate the common challenges they might encounter
- revitalise implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), with particular emphasis on supporting mothers to provide breastmilk to their premature and/or low birthweight babies
- increase capacity of health facilities and health care providers and mobilize communities to support mothers to breastfeed, starting from the first hour of life
- assist with the roll out of the Baby-Friendly Community Initiative, through training of community health workers and the establishment of community structures to support exclusive and continued breastfeeding
- implement WHO Infant and Young Child Feeding guidelines, including support to countries to ensure that exclusive and continued breastfeeding is prioritized within infant and young child nutrition counselling during routine health system contacts such as growth monitoring and nutrition screening both at facility and in the community
- scale up kangaroo mother care (KMC) for premature and/or low birthweight babies, elevating the importance of breastmilk within KMC and strengthening program guidance for protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding within KMC; and
- strengthen global advocacy efforts to increase optimal breastfeeding practices, including timely initiation, exclusive and continued breastfeeding.
There is so much more to do. The 2018 Global Breastfeeding Scorecard tells us that, while there has been progress, not one country meets all of the recommendations in the Global Breastfeeding Collective call to action. We also know that, despite substantial evidence that BFHI implementation improves breastfeeding practices, only 10% of births around the world occur in facilities designated as baby-friendly.
Join us in supporting mothers to breastfeed and provide the best foundation of life for their babies.