UNICEF and the World Health Organization have launched a global strategy to encourage breastfeeding. Currently, UNICEF figures show only 39 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of life. The new action plan aims to double that figure over the next decade.
Experts say breastfeeding makes for healthier babies. Mother's milk provides the best nutrition, and protects babies from diseases. But UNICEF's Miriam Labbok notes that the aggressive international marketing of infant formula has contributed to the decline of breastfeeding. So, too, has the fact that women entering the workforce need a convenient alternative way to feed their babies.
Other women have been the victims of bad medical advice. Dr. Labbok says the new global strategy will re-focus attention on what's best for children.
"So what we're doing now is not something new, really," she said. "We're re-establishing the biological norm that was there before. Unfortunately, skills were lost and those skills have to be replaced."
The UNICEF and WHO strategy also deals with the risks and benefits of breastfeeding for women who are HIV positive. The virus can spread from mothers to children through breast milk. Dr. Labbok says the risk is highest when mothers switch between breast milk and formula. She adds that the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding can still outweigh the risks. But she says mothers should seek a doctor's advice.