UNICEF: Lack Of Optimal Breast Feeding In Developing Countries

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life can help bring down infant mortality rates and stunting in the developing world, say pediatricians and the UNICEF.

AsianScientist (Aug. 6, 2011) – Breast feeding can help bring down infant mortality rates in India by nearly 10 percent, experts at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said Friday, as part of World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7 this year.

A 2005-2006 National Family Health Survey-3 showed that India has an infant mortality rate of 57 per 1000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 74.3 per 1,000 live births.

“Major causes of infant mortality are pneumonia and diarrhea that are very much preventable. Breast feeding protects the infants against the diseases and also boosts their immune system,” said Vinod Paul, head of pediatrics department at AIIMS.

“Women are surrounded by myths on the issue of breastfeeding. The fact being that six months of necessary breastfeeding is a natural boon for any mother and child,” he added.

Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as feeding an infant with only breast milk for the first six months of life. Subsequently, complementary breastfeeding is one where the mother continues to breastfeed as a supplement to increasing amounts of solid food for at least the first two years of life.


Percentage of children under six months old exclusively breastfed (2000-2006) (Source: UNICEF).

According to UNICEF, only 38 percent of 0 to 5 month olds in the developing world are exclusively breastfed, just over half of 6 to 9 month olds are breastfed and given complementary foods, and 39 percent of 20 to 23 month olds are provided with continued breastfeeding.

It has been estimated that optimal breastfeeding of children under two years of age has the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under five in the developing world annually, based on a report in The Lancet 2008 Nutrition Series.

The lack of optimal breastfeeding also affects growth development, leading to stunting in children.

Approximately one-third of children less than five years of age in developing countries are stunted (low height-for-age), and large proportions are also deficient in one or more micro-nutrients. China is home to 13 million of the world’s 177 million stunted children, said a 2009 UNICEF report on nutrition. Although rates have declined, China still has more stunted children worldwide besides India, and most of them live in rural areas.

UNICEF guidelines suggest that breastmilk alone is the ideal nourishment for infants for the first six months of life, providing all of the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, an infant needs, which means that no other liquid or food is required.

Unfortunately, many parents in rural areas have been forced to leave their children in the care of their grandparents while they work in the cities, and replace breastmilk with low-quality commercial milk powder and formula substitutes.

Besides societal pressures to stop breastfeeding, aggressive marketing and promotion by formula producers and inaccurate medical advice from health workers have also led mothers to stop exclusive breastfeeding early.

This World Breast Feeding week, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and its partners in more than 170 countries will celebrate their 19th year with the theme, Talk to Me! Breastfeeding – a 3D Experience.

The Alliance is calling for renewed commitment from all sectors of society to create supportive environments for breastfeeding outside the home where mothers of young children carry out their daily lives.


Source: UNICEF.
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