Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and the aim is to pay tribute both to the miracle of birth and to the special woman who performed that miracle: Our mother.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), new analysis shows that 99 per cent of Sri Lanka’s children are breastfed at some point in their young lives. Babies in South Asia including Sri Lanka are more likely to be breastfed than those in any other region in the world and are breastfed for longer.
At least 98 per cent of the children are breastfed at some point in their young lives including in Afghanistan (98%), Bhutan (99%), Nepal (99%), Sri Lanka (99%), and elsewhere in South Asia the proportion is also high at 94-97%.
According to UNICEF, almost all mothers in Sri Lanka, deemed a middle-income country, give birth at hospitals, which promote 10 steps of the baby-friendly initiative. This is on par with the high-income country of New Zealand.
Breast milk saves lives and protects babies against deadly diseases. UNICEF recommends that children should be breastfed for two years and beyond because it provides an important source of nutrients for healthy growth and can prevent half of the deaths during a child’s second year of life. Furthermore, it leads to higher performance on intelligence tests among children and adolescents, 3 IQ points on average.
Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother can give her child and herself, says Jean Gough, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia. “As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we must give mothers the support they need to start and continue breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for longer periods is important for the mother’s health; for each year a mother breastfeeds, her risk of developing breast cancer falls by 6 per cent.
“While Sri Lanka should be proud that almost every child is breastfed at some point in his or her life, we need to encourage mothers to breastfeed for as long as possible, ideally for two years. This brings immense benefits in the form of nutrition, health and well-being for both mother and baby,” according to Tim Sutton, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka.
There has been little progress in improving rates of continued breastfeeding at two years of age in South Asia between 2000 (68%) and 2016 (71%). Also, in some countries, breastfeeding rates fall by more than 20 per cent between the child’s first and second birthdays.
The recent analysis also showed that babies belonging to wealthier families are more likely to miss out on continued breastfeeding. In South Asia, 81 per cent of babies aged 20-23 months from poorer families are breastfed compared to only 57 per cent in richer families.
This trend is seen across the world. Some 7.6 million babies are not breastfed and babies in the world’s richest countries are most likely to miss out. Figures show that an estimated 22 per cent of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed. The rate of babies not being breastfed in low-and-middle-income countries, is 4 per cent.
UNICEF says, factors leading to higher breastfeeding rates vary. Countries like India and Vietnam have put in place strong policies to protect and promote breastfeeding. Through its global campaign, ‘Every Child ALIVE’, it demands solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns and UNICEF urges governments, the private sector and civil society to:
Increase funding and awareness to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through the age of two; Put in place strong legal measures to regulate the marketing of infant formula and other breast-milk substitutes as well as bottles and teats; Enact paid family leave and put in place workplace breastfeeding policies, including paid breastfeeding breaks; Implement the ten steps to successful breastfeeding in maternity facilities, and provide breast-milk for sick newborns; Ensure that mothers receive skilled breastfeeding counselling at health facilities and in the first week after delivery;
Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, so that mothers are ensured of continued support for breastfeeding and Improve monitoring systems to track improvements in breastfeeding policies, programmes and practices.
We hope the Sri Lankan government will follow these steps and encourage breastfeeding for two to three years. Mothers also need to cooperate for the sake of their babies and the next generation instead of being misled by beauticians on one side and by milk powder companies on the other.