Every year, since 1992, from the 1st -7th of August, World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated with awareness campaigns as well as other activities to encourage breastfeeding among mothers in commemoration of the 1990 Innocenti Declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) to support breastfeeding. The world breastfeeding week is an annual global that raises awareness, stirs action towards breastfeeding and other related issues as well as improve the health of babies around the world. It is a public health initiative with annual theme which calls people to action towards achieving better breastfeeding practices. The theme for WBW2020 is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet.” WBW was first celebrated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and now WHO, UNICEF as well as other organisations and governments observe it.
Breastfeeding promotion, which includes all plans and actions that aim at improving health through breastfeeding, is very important because proper breastfeeding practice is not popular despite the many benefits. The WHO/UNICEF recommends that breastfeeding be initiated as soon as possible after birth (within the first 1 hour of life), infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods be introduced afterwards and breastfeeding continued up to two years and beyond. Infants who are appropriately breastfed have been reported to experience many benefits from childhood and through adulthood. Breast milk is the ideal food for infants as it contains a variety of nutrients required by infants for survival, growth and development. Exclusive breastfeeding is a critical tool in achieving improved health through breastfeeding as studies report that infants who are exclusively breastfed are protected from childhood diseases like respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia) and diarrhoea. Exclusive breastfeeding also reduces the risk of overweight or obesity in adulthood, as well as the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Also, some studies report that individuals who were exclusively breastfed do better in intelligence tests among its many benefits. For mothers, breastfeeding has been reported to protect against breast and ovarian cancers, prevents postpartum haemorrhage as well as reduce the incidence of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding helps the mother and baby to bond better and can help in child spacing. Clearly, it can be seen that breastfeeding is essential for optimal health in infants and improves health among mothers. It is beneficial to families as it is cost-effective, safe, also, as a result of the fact that breastfeeding keeps the child healthy, less resources could be spent on healthcare and could be used in other areas, leading to possible improvement on the quality of life among family members.
Although breastfeeding is very rewarding, there could be challenges experienced and as such breastfeeding mothers require guidance and support. The impact of these challenges on breastfeeding practices may differ considerably depending on the quality of support received before, during and after delivery. Everyone has a role to play in supporting breastfeeding in the best ways possible and support could be offered at different levels of care like the prenatal and postnatal periods by healthcare workers providing skilled breastfeeding counselling. Governments are encouraged to make reasonable commitments (including resources) towards ensuring that skilled breastfeeding counselling is made available and easily accessible to mothers as well as their families. Breastfeeding support can also be gotten from family/friends (especially spouse/partner), peer groups, workplaces, non- governmental organisations, private sectors, government and government agencies in order to improve nutritional outcomes among infants.
Getting back on the theme for WBW2020, highlighting the role breastfeeding plays in maintaining a healthier planet is important. All the diverse benefits breastfeeding gives to both mother and child contributes to achieving a healthier planet. As a natural process, breastfeeding usually requires minimal use equipment that are not environment-friendly as compared to the use of formula in feeding infants which requires the use of plastics and other materials which may be harmful to both baby and the planet. It is cost-effective and does not pollute the environment. When mothers choose to breastfeed, they make a tremendous contribution to the improving the planet, thus making it safer for future generations. Breastfeeding serves as a tool in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Providing breastfeeding support by creating awareness and empowering nursing mothers in timely especially during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that all pregnant or nursing mothers can comfortably seek answers to any health-related questions or worries, especially those on breastfeeding whenever and wherever it is required. Some common concerns of would-be or new mothers include fears of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 to their unborn or breastfed babies. WHO encourage women who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 to continue breastfeeding as long term gains of breastfeeding outweighs the potential risk of transmission of the virus. Mothers who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 and have symptoms like fever, cough, breathing difficulty among others should observe respiratory hygiene measures such as frequent hand washing with soap and water particularly before touching the infant, she(mother) should wear a face mask when feeding the baby, coughing or sneezing into a tissue which should be discarded immediately followed by thorough hand washing, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces touched by the mother, as well as maintaining physical distancing form other people. Depending on how well a mother with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is putting the child to breast should ideally be continued. Some mothers may feel too unwell to feed the baby directly from the breasts and may discontinue breastfeeding. However, it is advised that they discuss options of delivering breast milk to their infants with their primary healthcare provider and recommence breastfeeding when they feel better.