The World Breastfeeding Week got underway on Saturday, August 1, with the United Nations urging communities to “support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. The World Health Organisation and United Nations Children’s Fund issued a joint call for governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling – a critical component of breastfeeding support.
In the joint statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said “breastfeeding is a natural process but it is not always easy. They need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.”
The WHO and UNICEF said that breastfeeding counselling would help mothers to build confidence while respecting their individual circumstances and choices. “Counselling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeeding, such as the provision of unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children,” they said.
They also pointed out that improving access to skilled counselling can extend the duration of breastfeeding and promote exclusive breastfeeding.
820,000 lives potentially saved
The WHO and UNICEF said that increasing rates of breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children every year. They also said that a variety of different healthcare professionals can provide the expert help needed, such as lactation counsellors and peer support providers – in a variety of clinical settings, or through home visits or community programmes, in person or remotely.
They pointed out that it is important to find innovative solutions to ensure that access to these essential services is not disrupted at the time of Covid 19. The families should be ensured breastfeeding counselling, they added.
UNICEF and WHO have called on governments to:
INVEST to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman. TRAIN health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families.
ENSURE that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible.
PARTNER and collaborate with civil society and health professional associations, building strong collaborative systems for provision of appropriate counselling.
PROTECT health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.