'Mothers need support both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding'
The United Nations has urged communities everywhere to support breastfeeding for a healthier planet as World Breastfeeding Week began on Saturday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) issued a joint message calling on governments to protect and promote women's access to skilled breastfeeding counselling - a critical component of breastfeeding support, reports UNB.
The UN has long advocated the benefits of breastfeeding, which delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits for both children and mothers.
It also helps foster a sustainable food system, according to UN News.
"While breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy," said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in their joint statement.
"Mothers need support both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding," they added.
Skilled counselling services can ensure mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, advice and reassurance they need to nourish their babies in the best way, according to the statement.
"Breastfeeding counselling can 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," it added.
Improving access to skilled counselling can also extend the duration of breastfeeding and promote exclusive breastfeeding, with benefits for babies, families and economies, the statement further said.
Breastfeeding could save 820,000 children’s lives a year
Analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children every year, generating $302 billion in additional income.
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.
Innovate during the Covid-19 pandemic
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it is even more important to find innovative solutions to ensure that access to essential services is not disrupted and that families continue to receive the breastfeeding counselling they need, the statement said.
During the pandemic, Unicef and WHO, in line with the policy actions advocated by the Unicef-WHO-led Global Breastfeeding Collective, are calling on governments to invest to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman, it added.
Ensuring availability of skilled breastfeeding counselling for every woman will require increased financing for breastfeeding programs and improved monitoring and implementation of policies, programmes and services, according to the statement.
It urged governments to train health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families.
The statement also urged governments to ensure that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible, and to protect health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.