August marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated every year from Aug 1 to 7 to encourage exclusive breastfeeding and improve babies’ health as a key practice to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by 2030.
Exclusive breastfeeding means new-borns receive only breast milk during their first 6 months of life, without any additional food or drink, as breast milk provides infants with all the energy and nutrients they need, and continues to be a key supplement to their growth during the first two years of life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth and until the baby is 6 months old.
Globally, some 77 million newborns – or 1 in 2 – are not put to the breast within an hour of birth, depriving them of the essential nutrients, antibodies and skin-to-skin contact with their mothers that protect them from disease and death.
Although, Laos has made considerable progress toward improving the number of mothers who exclusively breastfeed their children to 6 months of age, only 40 per cent of babies receive this important good start in life.
Formula use in Lao PDR has also increased substantially. The use of powdered milk or other breastmilk substitutes more than tripled between 2006 and 2011, increasing by approximately 15 per cent in urban areas. Research also shows that formula is being used increasingly in many of the country’s most remote areas.
A practice as simple as exclusive breastfeeding can save the lives of over 800,000 children under five worldwide every year, as it reduces the risk of child mortality. It can improve a child’s survival by six times compared to non-breastfed children, it also enhances a child’s immunity against respiratory infections, diarrhoea and other life-threatening illnesses; it helps prevent children from developing obesity and non-communicable diseases such as asthma and diabetes later in life.
Exclusive breastfeeding does not only benefit the child, but also the mother, by helping prevent certain types of cancer and diabetes.
Encouraging nursing mothers to breastfeed their newborn and creating a more breastfeeding-friendly environment can have a positive impact on children’s futures.
In Laos, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) work together under the Joint Mother and Child Health and Nutrition Programme, implemented in all provinces and funded by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Through this programme, the UN agencies promote exclusive breastfeeding as a key to sustainable development.
Besides the benefits to children’s health, growth development and better survival rates, breastfeeding helps children reach their full human and socio-economic potential.
WHO will be supporting the Ministry of Health with a breastfeeding video to advocate for exclusive breastfeeding and a high level advocacy event to strengthen the implementation of the Code of Breastmilk Substitute mechanisms and the link to the SDGs.
UNICEF developed TV spots on the promotion of breastfeeding will also be aired all week, in addition to the agency’s support in financing and strengthening of the national code of marketing of breast milk substitutes. Breastfeeding will also be promoted through social media this week by all UN agencies in Laos.
Promoting exclusive breastfeeding requires involving all sectors and engaging the Government of Laos, development partners and private sector companies to help ensure the children of Laos have a healthy start and better opportunities.