Washington, D.C., July 31, 2008 (PAHO)—Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life is the best and most cost-effective intervention to provide newborns with the nutrients they need, and to improve infant and children survival rates.
(Photo by Sonia Mey-Schmidt/PAHO)
On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week 2008 (August 1-7), national and international health experts emphasize that no gift is more precious than breastfeeding, yet barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfeed during the first six months of life. Because of it's proximity with the Olympic Games in China, this year's World Breastfeeding Week theme is "going for the gold by supporting mothers to breastfeed".
Every year, as much as 55% of infant deaths from diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections may be the result of inappropriate feeding practices. Further more, health officials from the Pan American Health Organization say that complementary feeding practices are frequently ill-timed, inappropriate and unsafe.
PAHO's Director reiterated that adequate nutrition, particularly during the first year of life, is a key, contributing factor for infants to better develop all their human potential. That is why, Dr. Mirta Roses said, it is imperative to keep working in doing all we can to stimulate optimal support conditions for all mothers while highlighting the fundamental benefits of breastfeeding for the health of both mothers and the newborn.
While there are encouraging trends in breastfeeding rates in a few countries, global data show that less than 40 per cent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed today. This underachievement in turn contributes to the unnecessary deaths of over a million children each year, said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Chan also said that these are lives that could be saved if mothers and families were adequately encouraged and supported to breastfeed.
World Breastfeeding Week 2008
"Rapid improvements can be achieved if a breastfeeding culture once again permeates all levels of society", Dr. Chan said.
Event in Honduras
A major event in the Americas fully tuned to World Breastfeeding Week 2008 will take place in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from 6 to 8 of August, with delegates and participants from many countries of the Americas attending the V Congreso Nacional de Nutrición y Alimentación Infantil. The effort is fully supported by national and international entities and agencies such as WHO/PAHO and UNICEF. The congress is being organized by the Honduras Health Ministry under the theme "Support mothers: building success" along with Colegio Médico Hondureño, Centro Nacional de Educación Médica Continua y Asociación Pediátrica Hondureña.
As stated in the WHO/UNICEF 2003 Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, inappropriate feeding practices and their consequences are major obstacles to sustainable socioeconomic development and poverty reduction. "Governments will be unsuccessful in their efforts to accelerate economic development in any significant long-term sense until optimal child growth and development, especially through appropriate feeding practices, are ensured."
Dr. Chessa Lutter, Regional Advisor in Food and Nutrition at PAHO, emphasized that "together it is possible to substantially increase the number of babies that are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months of life." However, for this to happen- says Dr. Lutter- we need to give all our support to mothers. Home visits during the first week of the babies' life can be especially important.
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).