|December 2008 Edition|
China Infant Formula Crisis Highlights Need to Promote Breastfeeding
Promotion of breastfeeding is one of the most cost-effective investments in health. Photo by José Carnevali/PAHO
The sickening of more than 50,000 Chinese babies by infant formula contaminated with melamine provided a stark reminder that infant formula presents risks that can be avoided through breastfeeding, said PAHO Director Mirta Roses. "We as a region can do more to protect the most vulnerable members of our society," she said.
Telling women that "breast is best" is not enough, said PAHO Assistant Director Socorro Gross." Governments need to create and support conditions that make breastfeeding possible in an increasingly globalized world."
Besides persuading mothers that breast milk is better than formula, it is equally important to create "baby-friendly" environments, said Chessa Lutter, PAHO regional advisor in food and nutrition. "This means, in hospitals, allowing mothers immediate and unrestricted access to their newborns and, in communities, providing skilled counseling to mothers. It also means creating and establishing breastfeeding-friendly workplaces."
Breast milk has short- and long-term benefits for both mothers and babies and, with rare exceptions, is the safest method of infant feeding.Women who breastfeed lose weight more easily after childbirth and face less risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Studies show that breastfed children are smarter, have fewer respiratory and ear infections, and are less likely to develop diabetes.
PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for a child's first six months of life, yet worldwide only one in three infants is fed this way. PAHO/WHO estimate that more than half of infant deaths due to diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections may be the result of inappropriate feeding practices.
Investing in promotion of breastfeeding has been designated a "best buy" for child survival and health by the Disease Control Priorities Project, Lutter noted, but added: "Unfortunately, there has been a decline in funding for breastfeeding promotion and support in the last 10 years, which threatens some important gains we have made."
"Rapid improvements can be achieved if a breastfeeding culture once again permeates all levels of society," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan during World Breastfeeding Week 2008, last July.
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