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Breastfeeding Could Save The Lives Of 1.3 Million Children a Year

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: breastfeeding, infant health, health news

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(NaturalNews) Providing breastfeeding education and support to new mothers could prevent more than one million child deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although the WHO recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of birth and consume nothing but breast milk -- not even water -- for the first six months of life, less than 40 percent of mothers worldwide meet this goal. Insufficient breastfeeding is a problem in both rich and poor countries, the agency says.

Because breast milk provides the exact combination of nutrients that a developing infant needs, no artificial formula or adult food can match its nutritive value. In addition, breast milk provides important antibodies to the underdeveloped infant immune system, and helps children's immune systems develop in a healthy way. Even a formula that provides nutrition similar to that of breast milk does not provide this critical, immune-boosting function.

If 90 percent of women met the WHO breastfeeding guidelines, the agency says, 13 percent of global deaths under the age of five could be prevented, translating into 1.3 million lives saved per year.

Although many women start out breastfeeding, large numbers abandon the practice because they are unable to get the baby to latch on properly or do not know how to breastfeed without suffering unbearable pain or discomfort.

"When it comes to doing it practically, they don't have the practical support," said the WHO's Constanza Vallenas.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that during disasters, well-meaning donations of formula may encourage women to stop breastfeeding just at the time when the practice is most critical.

"During emergencies, unsolicited or uncontrolled donations of breast milk substitutes may undermine breastfeeding and should be avoided," she said. "The focus should be on active protection and support of breastfeeding."

Chan said that mothers in disaster zones need more support to be able to continue or resume breastfeeding.

Sources for this story include: www.reuters.com.

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