WHO joins global call to promote breastfeeding as a “winning goal for life”

News release

WHO/A. Bhatiasevi

The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week (1–7 August) is “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – for Life!” Health professionals and advocates are urged to continue protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding as a means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and as a focus for the post-2015 development agenda.

Breastfeeding has a major impact on achieving MDGs 4 and 5 to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health, respectively. Breastfeeding could help prevent 13% of deaths among children under 5 years old and address under-nutrition that prevents children from reaching their potential.

“Breastfeeding saves lives. Not only does it nourish children, but it also protects them from infectious diseases in the short term and from asthma, hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular diseases in the long term," according to Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

A winning goal for life

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding until 2 years of age or beyond. Unfortunately, far too many obstacles can prevent breastfeeding from being fully practiced, depriving children of optimal nutrition. For example, misleading claims about breast milk substitutes may confuse mothers. Evidence suggests that infant formula industry advertisements, gifts and sponsorships promote misconceptions and myths and ultimately have a negative impact on feeding practices.

Mothers can face further obstacles to breastfeeding in their workplaces. In many countries, mothers are denied time with their babies after the birth, and too few organizations have policies in place to support breastfeeding at work. Breastfeeding often stops when a mother returns to work, despite the benefits.

Moreover, in many settings, babies are often removed from their mothers by health professionals minutes or hours after birth, preventing skin-to-skin contact, which keeps babies pink, warm, calm and healthy and promotes early initiation of breastfeeding.

WHO recommends that all infants should:

  • be breastfed within one hour of birth;
  • be fed nothing but breast milk for the first 6 months of life;
  • be breastfed until at least the age of 2 years and beyond; and
  • be introduced to adequate, safe and appropriate complementary foods beginning at the age of 6 months.

Breastfeeding's benefits

Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding saves more children's lives than any other single preventive intervention.

Mothers benefit from decreased bleeding after birth, a lower risk of developing osteoporosis and cancer of the breast, ovaries and endometrium. Exclusive breastfeeding also contributes to longer intervals between pregnancies.

Breastfeeding reduces burdens on society, such as health expenditures, hospitalizations and absenteeism. It also saves families money because it precludes the need for commercial substitutes.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in more than 170 countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies worldwide. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policy-makers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. WHO supports this call and urges countries from across the Western Pacific Region to continue heeding this important message.

For more information, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int