The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) jointly issued new ten-step guidance on Wednesday to increase support for breastfeeding in health facilities that provide maternity and newborn services.
Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health, and reduces costs for health facilities, families, and governments. WHO statistics show that breastfeeding within the first hour of birth protects newborn babies from infections and saves lives. Infants are at greater risk of death due to diarrhea 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. Breastfeeding all babies for the first two years would save the lives of more than 820,000 children under age five annually.
“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 WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“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.”
The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding underpin the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative, which both organizations launched in 1991. The new guidance describes practical steps countries should take to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services.
It provides the immediate health system platform to help mothers initiate breastfeeding within the first hour and breastfeed exclusively for six months. It also describes how hospitals should have a written breastfeeding policy in place, staff competencies, and antenatal and post-birth care, including breastfeeding support for mothers.
The new guidance also recommends limited use of breastmilk substitutes, rooming-in, responsive feeding, educating parents on the use of bottles and pacifiers, and support when mothers and babies are discharged from hospital.
“With these basic steps, implemented properly, we can significantly improve breastfeeding rates around the world and give children the best possible start in life,” says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore.