GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) says breastfeeding all babies for the first two years would save the lives of more than 820,000 children under the age of five every year. The WHO is issuing a new 10-step guide aimed at promoting breastfeeding in health facilities around the world.
The World Health Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund launched the Baby-friendly Hospital initiative in 1991, a voluntary program that encourages new mothers to breastfeed. The two agencies want to expand this program so that breastfeeding becomes a standard of care for all babies in all hospitals, with the aim of achieving 100-percent coverage.
Technical Officer in WHOs Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, Laurence Grummer-Strawn, says the updated 10-step guidance advises health facilities on how care should be offered to new mothers and babies.
“It focuses on issues, such as placing the mother and baby together, skin to skin, immediately post-partum, starting breastfeeding within a few minutes after the birth," he said. "It is about avoiding the use of formula unless there is a medical reason to…The other thing that is new about these 10 steps is that they clearly apply to all babies. The key principles behind the 10 steps also apply to premature infants, low birth weight babies, sick babies.”
Grummer-Strawn says globally only about 40 percent of babies under six months old are exclusively breastfed. He tells VOA coverage of baby friendly hospitals in Africa is very low — only four percent. He says that is of concern as fewer women receive the guidance they need regarding the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.
“We totally believe that the lack of breastfeeding contributes significantly to mortality," he said. "Neo-natal mortality rates have not dropped nearly as rapidly as child mortality rates. And, one of the concerns is that we are not adequately providing good nutrition particularly to low-birth babies and so addressing this early care in a better way can prevent some of that.”
Health advocates say breastfeeding confers many benefits. They say it protects newborns from acquiring infections and reduces mortality. It improves I-Q, school readiness and attendance. They say children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They say breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer in mothers.