WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh on Tuesday stressed on promoting breastfeeding, saying campaigns should be developed to educate new mothers and support them to breastfeed.
She said, “It should be ensured that policymakers across sectors, including in the workplace, are aware that breastfeeding is a proven means to prevent undernutrition, as well as to combat obesity and the premature deaths non-communicable diseases can cause, one of the region’s flagship priorities.”
She said exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued up to the age of two years and beyond provided the strongest foundation for lifelong health.
“Breast milk contains all the nutrients infants need to grow healthy and strong and, when combined with appropriate complementary foods after six months of age, was a powerful means to set up a lifetime of optimal nutrition, including the prevention of undernutrition and obesity,” she said.
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Breastfeeding was promoted as critical to infant development in the WHO South-East Asia Region for many years, with broad cultural acceptance and some of the world’s strongest legislation to encourage the practice, she said.
These and other factors mean that on average around half of the region’s infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, compared to 38 per cent globally and 18 per cent in industrialized countries, she said.
To provide each of the infants in the region the strongest foundation for lifelong health and optimal nutrition, Singh highlighted a series of initiatives which should be implemented.
Firstly, breastfeeding should be promoted across sectors and campaigns should be developed to educate new mothers and support them to breastfeed, she said.
Secondly, the region’s member states should harness the backing provided by the recently adopted World Health Assembly Resolution on infant and young child feeding, which urges all WHO member states to implement and initiate steps necessary to ensure the health and wellbeing of infants was put ahead of other concerns, she said.
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“And third, member states and health facilities across the region should fully embrace the WHO and UNICEF-developed Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative,” she said.
“Since 1991, the initiative sought to create maternal and child care institutions that protect and promote breastfeeding, especially important outcomes as institutional births increase region-wide,” she said.