Giving all children the best start in life begins with breastfeeding – one of the simplest, smartest, and most cost-effective ways we have of supporting healthier children, stronger families and sustainable growth.
World Breastfeeding Week, which was celebrated last month, highlights the vital role breastfeeding plays in the lives of children and the critical importance of promoting the value of breastfeeding globally, nationally, and on the community level. The theme of this year’s celebration, “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – for Life, underscores the crucial link between breastfeeding and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Achieving MDG 4
This linkage is especially clear when it comes to achieving MDG 4 – decreasing child mortality. Surviving the first month of life is a major hurdle for babies in Ghana. Half of all infant deaths happen within the first month of life.
Records indicate that a newborn dies in Ghana every 15 minutes and about 30,000 die annually. Much more, the past 10 years have witnessed a stagnation in the reduction of newborn deaths. Ghana is not likely to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4 target - under-five mortality of 41 deaths per 1,000 live births by the year 2015.
Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five of these unnecessary deaths. Breastfeeding does more than help children survive; it helps them to thrive, with benefits that last a lifetime. It is the foundation of good nutrition, reducing the risk of malnourishment in early childhood and the risk of obesity later in life.
Healthy brain development
By supporting nutrition and strengthening the bond between mother and child, breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development. This, in turn, may help prevent stunting – a global tragedy that affects millions of children, undermining both their physical and cognitive development and the future health of their societies.
Knowing all this, fewer than half of the world’s newborns benefit from breastfeeding. Even fewer are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. To shift this trend, we need to change social practices, working first and foremost with communities and families to encourage more mothers to breastfeed.
And we must work across sectors – nutrition, maternal, newborn and child health, early childhood development, and communication for development – to develop a more integrated approach, thus increasing the effectiveness of all our interventions to promote breastfeeding.
Global momentum to support breastfeeding is growing through major international advocacy efforts such as ‘A Promise Renewed’, to reduce preventable child mortality, and the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN)’, to reduce stunting.
In Ghana, recognising that neonatal mortality rates remain unacceptably high, the Ministry of Health has developed and launched a Ghana National Newborn Health Strategy and Action Plan for 2014-2018. The integrated and comprehensive plan mimics the ‘Global Every Newborn Action Plan’ in its objectives and targets to collaborate with stakeholders of varied backgrounds in the fight against neonatal deaths.
The plan was launched on July 30, 2014 by the Minister of Health, Dr Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah, who said it was ethically and morally right to save the life of every newborn by investing in newborn healthcare. The Action Plan includes early initiation of breastfeeding as an essential part of newborn health intervention package.
Let’s come together during and after the period of the World Breastfeeding Week celebration, in the spirit of progress, and score for children by making breastfeeding a global priority – to help give every child the best possible start in life.
The writer is the Nutrition Manager for UNICEF
Source: Daily Graphic
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