Breastfeeding could have saved 8.20 lakh babies in two years, says WHO

WHO and UNICEF have issued new ten-step guidance, to increase support for breastfeeding, in health facilities that provide maternity and newborn services. Breastfeeding all babies for the first 2 years would save the lives of more than 8,20,000 children under age 5 annually

  • Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health, and reduces costs for health facilities, families, and governments.
  • Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth protects new born babies from infections and saves lives.
  • Infants are at greater risk of death due to diarrhoea and other infections when they are only partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.
  • Breastfeeding also improves IQ, school readiness and attendance, and is associated with higher income in adult life. It also reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother.

The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding underpin, the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative, which both WHO and UNICEF launched in 1991. The practical guidance encourages new mothers to breastfeed and informs health workers how best to support breastfeeding.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that in many hospitals and communities around the world, whether a child can be breastfed or not can make the difference between life and death, and whether a child will develop to reach his or her full potential.

“Hospitals are not there just to cure the ill. They are there to promote life and ensure people can thrive and live their lives to their full potential,” says Dr Tedros. “As part of every country’s drive to achieve universal health coverage, there is no better or more crucial place to start than by ensuring the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding are the standard for care of mothers and their babies.”

Breast-milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6–23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between 6-12 months, and one-third of energy needs between 12-24 months. Breast-milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.

Ten steps guidelines issued by WHO, 

  • 1a. Comply fully with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions.
  • 1b. Have a written infant feeding policy that is routinely communicated to staff and parents.
  • 1c. Establish ongoing monitoring and data-management systems.
  • Ensure that staff have sufficient knowledge, competence and skills to support breastfeeding.
  • Discuss the importance and management of breastfeeding with pregnant women and their families.
  • Facilitate immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and support mothers to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.
  • Support mothers to initiate and maintain breastfeeding and manage common difficulties.
  • Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
  • Enable mothers and their infants to remain together and to practise rooming-in 24 hours a day.
  • Support mothers to recognize and respond to their infants’ cues for feeding.
  • Counsel mothers on the use and risks of feeding bottles, teats and pacifiers.
  • Coordinate discharge so that parents and their infants have timely access to ongoing support and care.