Exclusive breastfeeding is central to eliminate child malnutrition, since it contributes to preventing illnesses, say experts.
However, in many countries, the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.
While there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades – with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally – the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains.
Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.
“Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond offer a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses,” World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF said in a joint statement.
Both the organisation said that the world has a chance to take pledge to tackle the global malnutrition crisis.
“As we approach the UN Food Systems Summit in September and the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in December, governments, donors, civil society and the private sector all have an opportunity to make smart investments and commitments to tackle the global malnutrition crisis – including protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding – through stronger policies, programmes and actions,” it read.
Now is not the time to lower our ambitions. Now is the time to aim high. We are committed to making the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action a success by ensuring that every child’s right to nutritious, safe and affordable food and adequate nutrition is realized from the beginning of life, starting with breastfeeding, the statement added.