The World Health Organization says breast-feeding is key to saving children's lives. During this year's World Breast-feeding Week, WHO and other health agencies are highlighting 10 steps to successful breast-feeding. The Week, which runs from August 1 to 7, is celebrated in more than 170 countries.
The World Health Organization describes breast milk as the ideal food for newborns and infants. It says breast milk is safe, gives babies the nutrients they need for health development and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses.
Bernadette Daelmans, a Medical Officer in WHO's Division for Newborn and Child Health and Development, says breast-feeding has many benefits, not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term for children's health.
"In the World Organization and UNICEF we estimate that if children were exclusively breast fed for six months and continued to breast feed for up to two years, with appropriate additional food for six months onwards, we could save 1.5 million children under five years of age out of the 8.8 million that we estimate to die currently every year," said Daelmans.
WHO says malnutrition is responsible for one-third of the nearly nine million deaths among children under age five every year. It says malnutrition can be a direct cause of death or cause fatal disease in young children.
Dr. Daelmans says more than two-thirds of these deaths occur during the first months of life and are often associated with inappropriate feeding practices such as bottle-feeding.
She says breast-feeding has many beneficial effects for children in both developing and developed countries. For instance, she says it can protect children against illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.
In addition, she says the benefits obtained through breast-feeding often carry on into adulthood.
"It has long term effects in reducing the mean level of blood pressure in adults. Adults who have been breast-fed have lower cholesterol levels," she said. "It has benefits for the mother for reducing her risk for ovarian cancer and breast cancer. And, it obviously also helps to reduce post-partum hemorrhage immediately after birth and bleeding. It reduces that. So, there is a whole range of benefits that apply to children universally, wherever they live."
The World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund have developed ten steps for health facilities to take towards ensuring successful breast-feeding. For instance, the measures call for helping mothers to begin breast-feeding within half an hour of birth and showing mothers how to breastfeed.
The measures encourage breast-feeding on demand and foster the establishment of breast-feeding support groups that mothers can join after they are discharged from hospital.
WHO says this 10-step checklist today is used by hospitals in more than 150 countries.