, NAIROBI, Kenya Aug 2 – As the World marks the Breastfeeding week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has emphasised the need for exclusive breastfeeding until a child is six months of age.
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said breastfeeding was the best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children.
"Exclusive breastfeeding should start within one hour of birth with no food or liquid given to the infant," Dr Chan said in a statement posted on the WHO website.
She stated that even in emergency situations, exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged.
"The aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages frequent breastfeeding for children up to at least two years of age," the WHO chief added.
However after six months, the International health body encouraged use of appropriate complementary foods alongside breastfeeding.
The World Breastfeeding week will be marked in this first week of August under the theme, "Save Lives: Make Hospitals Safe in Emergencies."
Dr Chan noted that the theme stressed the importance of breastfeeding as a life-saving intervention especially during emergencies which she said was firmly supported by evidence.
"Unfortunately, a widespread misconception assumes that stress or inadequate nutrition, commonly seen during emergencies, can compromise a mother’s ability to breastfeed successfully," Dr Chan said.
"During emergencies, unsolicited or uncontrolled donations of breast-milk substitutes may undermine breastfeeding and should be avoided," she added.
Dr Chan said instead, the focus should be on active protection and support of breastfeeding for example by establishing safe "corners" for mothers and infants, one-to-one counselling and mother-to-mother support.
She added that as part of emergency preparedness, hospitals and other health care services should have trained health workers who could help mothers establish breastfeeding and overcome difficulties.
"WHO has developed Operational Guidance for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers, which provides concise and practical guidance on how to ensure appropriate infant and young child feeding in emergency preparedness and response," she said.
"It has integrated the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes to highlight the problem of donations of breast milk substitutes, bottles and teats in emergencies."
According to the WHO, barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfed during the first six months of childhood.