The World Health Organization says getting new mothers to breast-feed
their infants could save 1.3 million children's lives each year. The theme of this year's World Breast-feeding Week, which begins August
1, stresses the importance of breast-feeding as a life-saving measure,
especially during emergencies.
The World Health Organization says less
than 40 percent of mothers around the world breast-feed their infants
in the first six months.
Constanza Vallenas is WHO Medical
Officer in the Department of Child and Adolescent Health and
Development. She says raising the global breast-feeding rate to 90
percent would prevent the deaths of an estimated 13 percent of all
children under the age of five in the developing world.
gives the nutrients and the immune factors that are important for
protecting infants against the most serious infections they can get,
which is diarrhea and pneumonia," said Dr. Vallenas. "It also protects
against malnutrition. The recommendation we have along with UNICEF is
that infants should be exclusively breast fed, meaning without even
water until six months of age. And, from there on to continue breast
feeding with appropriate complimentary foods until the age of two years
Dr. Vallenas says many mothers are discouraged
from breast-feeding because they do not know how to get their baby to
latch on properly to the breast's nipple, or because they suffer pain
and discomfort. She says this problem, which afflicts women in both
rich and poor countries, could be overcome with the right practical
The World Alliance for Breast-feeding Action, which
includes organizations such as WHO and the United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF), is using this week to highlight the benefits of
breast-feeding in emergency situations.
Dr. Vallenas says there
is a widespread misconception that stress or inadequate nutrition,
commonly seen during emergencies, can prevent mothers from
breast-feeding successfully. She says this problem can be remedied
with the right sort of counseling.
"One of the things we suggest
is that during emergencies there are safe corners so that mothers can
breast feed there, that they can receive counseling-one-to-one
counseling, that they can have mothers' support groups so they can
support each other," said Dr. Vallenas. "And, also that health workers
or field workers should know how to help a mother re-lactate. That is
also possible. If a mother has stopped breast-feeding for sometime,
she can resume breast-feeding if she has the proper motivation and
support from a skilled person."
related issue, the World Health Organization says pregnant women should
be made aware of the risks they face from both seasonal flu and the
H1N1 swine flu pandemic. It says expectant mothers should be given top
priority in receiving antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.