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Breastfeeding Improves Health of Babies

Some 170 mothers breastfeed their children during a mass breastfeeding event inside a military headquarters in Taguig City, metro Manila, August 2, 2014.

Friday marked the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated in more than 170 countries every year from August 1 - 7 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. WHO says "nutritious complementary foods" should then be added to the baby's diet while continuing breastfeeding "for up to two years or beyond."

Less than half of the world's newborns benefit from breastfeeding and even fewer are exclusively breast fed for the first six months.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake says giving children "the best start in life begins with breastfeeding." He says it is one of the "simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways" of supporting healthier children and stronger families.

Over 40 percent of the nearly seven million young children who die every year are newborns. Lake said breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five of those "unnecessary deaths," saving more than half a million children every year.

The U.N. executive described breastfeeding as the foundation of good nutrition that reduces the risk of malnourishment in early childhood and the risk of obesity later in life.

Lake said breastfeeding should be a "global priority."