WHO and UNICEF join their partners in calling for the benefits of breastfeeding to be broadcast beyond clinics and delivery rooms to the public at large, ensuring that lactating mothers are supported to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a child’s life, and that young people understand the importance of breastfeeding long before they become parents.
Breastfeeding is directly linked to reducing the numbers of children who die before their fifth birthday. In Pakistan, 78 infants out of 1,000 live births die every year while under-five mortality is 94 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Significant numbers of infants continue to die from diarrhea, pneumonia, respiratory infections and under-nutrition. A major source of these diseases is the lack of exclusive breastfeeding and the use of unhygienic bottles, formula milk and teats.
These infants can be saved through the natural protection of mother’s milk without any other supplements for up to the first six months of their lives.
Research (Lancet series) has shown that initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of birth will prevent 22 per cent of neonatal (under one month) deaths, while 16 per cent of neonatal could be avoided if all infants under one year were breastfed from day one.
Furthermore, breastfeeding is also extremely beneficial for the mother as it fosters a strong bond between mother and baby, protects her from breast cancer and contributes to natural birth spacing.
“The situation of children in Pakistan is serious with immunization, nutrition and sanitation issues, in particular, needing urgent attention. This is illustrated by only one in five children under one year of age being immunized and 31 per cent being born with low birth weight. With a national average stunting rate at 37 per cent and acute malnutrition at 13 per cent, urgent action is needed,” said Dan Rohrmann, UNICEF Country Representative for Pakistan.
“The root causes for malnutrition are not only linked to the 2010 floods but due to inappropriate infant and young child feeding practices, including the late initiation of breast feeding as well as inappropriate complementary foods and inappropriate weaning foods.
Therefore, many of the nutrition problems we see today would be greatly alleviated with increased exclusive breastfeeding and more knowledge around nutrition,” said Mr Rohrmann.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life remains essential as the country is still recovering from the impact of the destructive 2010 floods that inundated almost one-fifth of the country.
While nutritious food supplies, sanitation and access to safe drinking water remain elusive for millions, breastfeeding – particularly exclusive breastfeeding – provides critical protection from infection in environments without a safe water supply and sanitation.
“Pakistan’s high rate of child mortality – with malnutrition and preventable diseases being key contributing factors – can be addressed by implementing a multi-sectoral approach across Pakistan. WHO and UNICEF are working closely with the Government of Pakistan and its partners in the health, water and sanitation, and nutrition sectors to increase child survival rates. Exclusive breastfeeding is a core component of these measures,” said Dr Nima Abid, Acting WHO Representative in Pakistan.
“World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to protecting children and promoting this life-saving measure; exclusive breastfeeding gives a child the best possible start in life,” said Dr Abid.
During World Breastfeeding Week celebrations, UNICEF and WHO are supporting the Government of Pakistan and the National Alliance for Promotion and Protection of Breastfeeding to organise awareness-raising activities.
This year’s celebrations emphasize the role that every member of society can play to raise awareness about breastfeeding – a natural and nurturing start to life for infants and mothers.