The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2020 is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. In line with this theme, WHO and UNICEF are calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counseling, a critical component of breastfeeding support.
Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional, and emotional benefits to both children and mothers. And it forms part of a sustainable food system. But while breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy. Mothers need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.
Skilled counseling services can ensure that mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, the advice, and the reassurance they need to nourish their babies optimally.
Breastfeeding counseling can help mothers to build confidence while respecting their individual circumstances and choices. Counseling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeedings, such as the provision of unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children.
Improving access to skilled counseling for breastfeeding can extend the duration of breastfeeding and promote exclusive breastfeeding, with benefits for babies, families, and economies. Indeed, analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820 000 children every year, generating $302 (USD) billion in additional income.
Skilled breastfeeding counseling can be provided by different actors including health care professionals, lactation counselors, and peer support providers, and in a variety of settings– in health facilities or clinics, through home visits or community programs, in person or remotely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to find innovative solutions to ensure that access to these essential services is not disrupted and that families continue to receive the breastfeeding counseling they need.
This is why UNICEF and WHO, in line with the policy actions advocated by the UNICEF-WHO-led Global Breastfeeding Collective, are calling on governments to:
* INVEST to make skilled breastfeeding counseling available to every woman. Ensuring the availability of skilled breastfeeding counseling to every woman will require increased financing for breastfeeding programs and improved monitoring and implementation of policies, programs, and services.
* TRAIN health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counseling to mothers and families.
* ENSURE that counseling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible.
* PARTNER and collaborate with civil society and health professional associations, building strong collaborative systems for the provision of appropriate counseling.
* PROTECT health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.