World Breastfeeding Week: WHO advocates for more commitment as 6 out of 10 children not exclusively breastfed in 2018

Globally and for one week, attention will focus on breastfeeding from Thursday 1st to Wednesday 7th August 2019 in the annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.

The yearly World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated “to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding,” notes WHO.

Establishing exclusive breastfeeding – feeding newborns with only breastmilk for the first six months of life — enables young children grow, prevent undernutrition, promote brain development, and reduce the risk of children becoming overweight.

Breastfeeding is also a newborn’s first vaccine as it were, providing essential antibodies and help to boost their immunity.

Inadequate breastfeeding rates result in economic losses of about US $302 billion annually, which represents 0.49% of the world’s Gross National Income (GNI). Increasing breastfeeding could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children under five and 20,000 annual deaths from breast cancer.

Source: 2019 Breastfeeding Scorecard

Despite these many benefits of breastfeeding, particularly exclusive breastfeeding, many children are still missing out as the current data depict the stark reality.

This year’s commemoration is accompanied by the release of the 2019 Breastfeeding Scorecard, which shows that only four out of 10 children were exclusively breastfed in 2018 and just about that same number were put to breast within 1 hour of delivery – an indicator referred to as early initiation of breastfeeding.

The graph below is extracted from the 2019 Breastfeeding Scorecard and it shows the current trends in breastfeeding indicators globally. Note how current achievements with breastfeeding indicators are a far cry from the 2030 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (the 2030 targets are in red).

Source: Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, 2019: Increasing Commitment to Breastfeeding through Funding and Improved Policies and Programmes by WHO and UNICEF, July 2019.

Also, the Breastfeeding Scorecard shows that more children in rural areas were breastfed than urban, suggesting that perhaps, women living in fast-paced urban environment need more support to get them through breastfeeding.

Current trends are not acceptable – and the world can do better. Thus, UNICEF and WHO are urging greater investments into funding, programs and policies that “promote, protect and support breastfeeding.”

So the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week – “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding” has been carefully chosen to underscore the importance of providing family friendly breastfeeding support and enabling environments for parents to be able to nurture their children at the most critical period of need.

Such family friendly breastfeeding policies, programs and practices should help mothers and children to stay bonded at the time it matters most.

WHO, UNICEF and partners are advocating a minimum of 18 weeks paid maternity leave and also paid paternity leave to encourage both parents share in caring for the newborn.

The importance of breastfeeding cannot be overemphasized and research has shown that when women have more time, by being supported with appropriate paid maternity leave for example, there is a 30% increase in the likelihood of such women exclusively breastfeeding their children.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention C183, women have a right to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, along with work breaks with appropriate supportive and conducive nursing space when they return to work.

However, only 11% of countries in the world currently meet this recommended global standards, quoting figures from the breastfeeding scorecard.

The ILO recommendation is considered the minimum but “preferably, mothers should have paid leave for a period of 6 months or more after birth and fathers should have paid maternity leave,” WHO and UNICEF recommend.

Below is the comparison of how countries are performing with respect to 2030 targets in the different recommended domains to improve breastfeeding rates.

Thus the conclusion from the 2019 Breastfeeding Scorecard is with an action charge to all stakeholders:

“Countries should focus on improving breastfeeding practices in order to produce a healthier and smarter population. Globally, countries are still falling short of doing all they can to promote, protect and support breastfeeding. It is the responsibility of governments, donors, international organizations and civil society to all work collaboratively on promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Policymakers and legislators play a vital role in creating enabling environments for breastfeeding and ensuring families are making informed decisions when feeding their children, therefore contributing to improved health outcomes for all.”

At EssaysinHealth, we join WHO and partners to urge actions at all levels on critical support domains of breastfeeding towards a greater future for all.

See this important joint message by WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and UNICEF Executive Director, Henrieta H. Fore, on the 2019 World Breastfeeding Week.

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona is a medical doctor by training and a writer by passion. Samuel holds a postgraduate degree in Public Health. He believes that communicating medical knowledge goes beyond writing technical reviews. Samuel thus uses his expertise in public health and health systems research to transmit technical information for both academic and general audience. Please email to contact this author directly or use the contact page and your information will be passed on to him.