Somali communities urged to promote breastfeeding
Nairobi, Kenya, 30 July 2010 – Somali communities should promote breastfeeding to ensure infants get a strong and stable start to their lives, UNICEF Representative to Somalia, Rozanne Chorlton said at the commencement of World Breastfeeding Week. The Week this year emphasizes the advantages of breastfeeding as well as the role the community and health sector can play to promote it.
In a country where one in five children dies before the age of five, breastfeeding has the potential to reduce mortality by as much as 20%, as well as decrease the likelihood of disease. Delays in the initiation of breastfeeding and the use of unhygienically-prepared formula, powdered milk and animal milk are contributing factors towards Somalia’s global acute malnutrition levels of 19 per cent.
In Somalia, most infants are exclusively breastfed for no more than two to three days after delivery. Only 5.3% of infants are exclusively breastfed in Somalia for the first six months of life. If this number was increased, Somali infants would receive tremendous health benefits, critical nutrients and protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia. The strong protective effect of breastfeeding is most significant when a child is below six months, but it extends until they are at least two years old. The Koran also recommends breastfeeding for 24 months.
UNICEF is supporting health workers and communities to acquire the knowledge, skills and resources to help new mothers and promote breastfeeding in Somalia. “Much can be achieved by spreading the word in communities that mothers should initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth and give their newborns no other food or drink for the first six months of their lives apart from breast milk, unless medically indicated,” said Ms Chorlton. “UNICEF is the largest provider of water, education, health and nutrition services in Somalia and our staff and partners are helping to ensure that health facilities continue to play a major role in raising this awareness and providing the skills to achieve it.”
Newborn infants in Somalia start their lives in some of the most disadvantaged conditions in the world. The country’s humanitarian situation is compounded by a lack of sustainable and safe water sources, repeated illness (especially diarrhoea), limited access to food and poor child-care practices, which have contributed to an increase in chronic malnutrition.
“UNICEF is promoting the concept of a baby-friendly community by sensitizing media, students of midwifery and nursing schools, community health workers, youth, teachers, religious leaders, women and traditional birth attendants so that they know and share the knowledge that a breastfed baby can become a strong and intelligent member of the community,” said Erin McCloskey a Nutrition Specialist with UNICEF Somalia.