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  • Writer's pictureBy Reporter

UNICEF, WHO says breastfeeding is lifesaving, remains the safest in COVID-19

A mother breastfeeding her child/ Photo Credit: UNICEF

By Reporter

Aug.3, 2020 –UNICEF is urging mothers to continue breastfeeding, stressing that breastmilk saves children’s lives and still best for mother and babies during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a joint statement on Monday says the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for stronger measures to support exclusive breastfeeding.

The message from UNICEF is coming as Nigeria joins the world to celebrate this year’s World Breastfeeding Week themed “Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet.”

UNICEF is also seeking support for mothers to continue to breastfeed their children during the current pandemic while observing all necessary safety and hygienic precautions.

The agency emphasizes that breastmilk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses

UNICEF and WHO have also urged governments to find innovative solutions to protect and promote women’s access to breastfeeding counselling, a critical component of breastfeeding support.

According to the World bodies, while researchers continue to test breastmilk from mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding.

Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like most emergencies, leaves families with children in an extremely vulnerable position.

“Given the present lack of evidence that transmission of the virus could occur through breastmilk, we recommend that mothers should be encouraged to initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies while observing good hygiene practices,” Hawkins said.

UNICEF and WHO says it has always recommended that babies be fed only breastmilk for their first 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until 2 years of age or beyond.

The agencies however note that currently, only 29 percent of Nigerian children between the ages of 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed.

They said breast milk substitutes such as infant formula, other milk products, and beverages not only contribute negatively to the health and development of the child, but also to environmental degradation and climate change.

The World bodies however stated that breast milk, on the other hand, is natural, and is the only food a baby needs in the first 6 months of life.

UNICEF further called on relevant agencies to strictly enforce adherence to the National Regulation on the Code of Marketing of breast milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions.

The agency said this can be achieved by putting to a stop to the unwholesome marketing of breast milk substitutes.

According to UNICEF, Civil society organizations should also not seek or accept donations of breast milk substitutes in emergency situations.

The agency noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, availability and increased access to health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families is essential.

UNICEF said that efforts must be made to increase investment in maternal, infant, and child nutrition interventions at the community level support and to implement policies that support maternity leave for 6 months in the public sector.

The agency is also calling for an enabling environment for breastfeeding in the private sector.

It also stressed that advocacy for paid paternity leave must also continue to ensure full participation of both parents in the early moments of the child.

Hawkins further said that “Through strengthened policy provisions and increased investment for breastfeeding, we can ensure that mothers in Nigeria are empowered to breastfeed their babies.

“Breastfeeding is still the safest during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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