Countries throughout the Americas are joining together to observe World Breastfeeding Week, which focuses this year on the importance of breastfeeding in the first hour of life.
The week of August 1-7 has the theme, "Breastfeeding: The 1st Hour", highlighting that breastfeeding in the first hour of life and exclusive breastfeeding for six months can save more than one million babies.
World Breastfeeding Week, observed the first week of August every year by the countries, the Pan American Health Organization, and other agencies, aims to spread information globally about the importance of breastfeeding for maternal and child health. In the Americas, ministries of health, non-governmental organizations, and families are observing the week in a variety of ways, including conferences, parades, art shows, and special events.
"PAHO takes pride in joining with its sister UN agencies, Member States, bi-lateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, communities, families and mothers and babies to work to ensure that babies get the best start in life by being breastfed within the first hour of life," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses.
Mother and newborn skin to skin contact after birth and breastfeeding within the first hour of life helps keep babies warm and calm. Early breastfeeding provides colostrum or the "first milk", which helps fight infection and serves as the baby's first immunization. It is also rich in Vitamin A, which helps protect the baby's eyes.
Suckling at the breast helps to reduce maternal bleeding after birth, stimulates the flow of milk from the breast, and reinforces the process of bonding between the mother and baby.
Thousands of scientific articles have demonstrated the life-saving benefits of breastfeeding, even in the most affluent environments. These articles have also shown the protective effects of breastfeeding in reducing morbidity, needless suffering, and health care costs related to diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, ear infections, some childhood cancers, and other illnesses. More recently, the research has focused on the benefits of breastfeeding for preventing devastating long-term chronic conditions such as obesity, type-1 diabetes and ulcerative colitis, and promoting higher IQ.
Important strategies to improve early breastfeeding initiation include certifying hospitals in the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), and implementation and monitoring of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative both outline actions needed to facilitate early initiation of breastfeeding, " added Dr. Roses. "These actions can be implemented with other interventions important for maternal and infant survival and development, including the active4 management of labor and delayed cord clamping to enhance infant iron reserves at birth," she said.
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise the quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.
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