“Exclusive breastfeeding for six months benefits the infant, mother, family, community, country and environment; therefore, breastfeeding is recognised as an effective strategy in achieving regional and global goals on health, nutrition, food security, economic growth and environmental sustainability”, states Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) say that breastfeeding should start within an hour of birth and continue exclusively for the first six months of life. They also say that complementary (solid) foods should be given at six months and that breastfeeding should continue until the child is at least two years old.
Experts say that early breastfeeding is important for a baby’s survival because it lowers the risk of illness and death. Breastmilk gives babies the best nutrition for their growth and development, both physically and mentally. It also has antibodies that help prevent and treat childhood illnesses. Studies show that babies who are breastfed longer have:
- a 13% lower chance of being overweight or obese
- a 35% lower chance of getting type 2 diabetes
Meanwhile, women who breastfeed have a lower chance of being overweight or obese after giving birth, a 32% lower chance of getting type 2 diabetes, a 37% lower chance of getting ovarian cancer, and a 26% lower chance of getting breast cancer.
Breastfeeding also helps ensure that both the baby and the family have enough food. Infants who are only fed breast milk don’t need any other food and are less likely to get sick, which saves money for the family. This makes it possible to buy healthy food for the rest of the family. This is especially important when the economy is in trouble like it was during the COVID-19 pandemic when a lot of households lost jobs and money. The pandemic has turned out to be a threat to breastfeeding worldwide. Two recent studies in Western countries found that rates of early initiation, exclusive breastfeeding, and continued breastfeeding are all going down because of the pandemic. One big reason for this is that mothers aren’t getting as much help as they used to.
But many babies and young children in Latin America and the Caribbean do not meet the WHO and UNICEF guidelines for breastfeeding. This means that they do not get all of the benefits of breastfeeding. Only 54% of babies start breastfeeding within an hour of being born. Only 37% breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, which is lower than the global rate (44%) and between 31% and 55% of children continue to get breastmilk until they are two years old.
In line with thematic area 1 of the WBW-Sustainable Development Goals 2030 campaign, this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week is “Step up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support.” The theme is aimed to show the connections between breastfeeding and good nutrition, food security, reducing inequality and also focus on building up the skills of people who have to protect, promote, and help to breastfeed at all levels of society.
CARPHA supports breastfeeding as a long-term way to make the region more productive and healthier, and it encourages mothers and families to see breastfeeding as the best way to feed babies. The agency has been in charge of training for the WHO/UNICEF 40-Hour Breastfeeding Counseling Course and the 20-Hour Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Course for health professionals, as well as implementation and certification. They have also helped Member States make National Infant and Young Child Feeding Policies and Hospital Breastfeeding Policies. It has also made guidelines for anyone who cares for and manages newborns or pregnant or breastfeeding women who are thought to be infected with the COVID-19 virus or who have been confirmed to have it.
CARPHA asks and encourages its member states to take a whole-society approach and put the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding into place and make them stronger. By protecting and supporting breastfeeding, we are also protecting human rights and taking important steps toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals so that no one is left behind in the world after a pandemic.
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