Breastfeeding is the cheapest and most effective life-saver in history
Children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children. Starting breastfeeding in the first day after birth can reduce the risk of new-born death by up to 45 per cent.
Breastfeeding also supports a child’s ability to learn and helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Recent studies in the United States and United Kingdom point to large health care savings resulting from breastfeeding, given that breastfed children fall ill much less often than non-breastfed children.
Apart from the benefits to the baby, mothers who breastfeed exclusively are less likely to become pregnant in the first six months following delivery, recover faster from giving birth, and return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Evidence shows that they experience less post-partum depression and also have a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers later in life.
“What a mother gains from breastfeeding the baby is something she cannot substitute with anything else. It is not only the best nutrition for the baby; it is immunity protection for the baby`s health, the psychological and physical bond with the baby, and the joy and happiness in the family. On top of it all it is the cheapest life saver for the new born” said UNICEF Ukraine Representative Yukuie Mokuo.
Despite these well documented benefits of breastfeeding worldwide, only 39 per cent of children aged less than six months were exclusively breastfed in 2012. This global figure has improved very little for the past several decades, due in part to large countries where the breastfeeding rate is low, and to the general lack of a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers.
According to preliminary data of UNICEF Multi indicator cluster survey (MICS 2012) only 65.7 % of new-borns in Ukraine start breastfeesding within one hour after the delivery. 87.1 % of mothers initiated breastfeeding within 24 hours after the delivery. Only 19.7 % of children below six months are exclusively breastfed (which is significantly lower than the recommended level).
Although breastfeeding is natural and may seem instinctive, it is essential to create an enabling environment for it to become the norm. Mothers benefit from the help of skilled health providers and community workers to support them to breastfeed, as well as culturally-sensitive communication, and protective laws and policies, particularly around the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and maternity leave.
UNICEF campaigns for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond, using creative tactics to draw attention to the issue. It recently rolled out a campaign in Uruguay and Argentina, “Giving the breast is giving the best of you,” starring Uruguayan actress Natalia Oreiro, aiming to boost breastfeeding among working mothers.