The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted breastfeeding support services, and increased child malnutrition globally.
This was contained in a joint statement issued on Sunday by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, and Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. According to the statement, exclusive breastfeeding is central to eliminating child malnutrition, since it contributes to preventing illnesses. “Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offer a powerful line of defense against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses,” the statement reads.
“While there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades – with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally – the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains. “In many countries, the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.
Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.
“In Nigeria, where 1 in 8 children do not reach their 5th birthday and 3 in 10 children are stunted, optimal breastfeeding practices are known to reduce neonatal and child morbidities and mortality rates as well as stunting reduction.”
“Optimal nutrition provided by breastfeeding along with nurturing, care, and stimulation strengthens a child’s brain development with positive impacts that endure over a lifetime.” The Cable