Babies in South Asia are more likely to be breastfed than any other region in the world and are breastfed for longer, Unicef said in a new analysis released on Sunday.
In Bangladesh, only 51 percent of new-born with early initiation breastfeeding within an hour after birth and 55 percent of infants less than 6 months old are exclusively breastfed.
Breast milk saves lives and protects babies against deadly diseases, it said.
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 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, as well as herself,” said 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.”
At least 98 percent of children are breastfed at some point in their young lives in Afghanistan (98%), Bhutan (99%), Nepal (99%) and Sri Lanka (99%), and elsewhere in South Asia the proportion is also high at 94-97%.
While breastfeeding is almost universal in the region, there are still a lot to do to improve the quality of practices.
Early initiation breastfeeding within an hour after birth and exclusive breastfeeding among infants less than 6 months old remain sub-optimal.
Unicef supports addressing the gaps in breastfeeding practices. One of current initiative is Mothers@Work programme that support working mothers in the Bangladesh’s garment sector to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work.”
Breastfeeding for longer periods is important for mothers’ health; for each year a mother breastfeeds, her risk of developing breast cancer falls by 6 percent.
“As breastfeeding for two years and beyond brings immense benefits, we would like to commend mothers in South Asia, for showing the way forward. Nevertheless, we still need to encourage and support them to prolong breastfeeding and breastfeed no matter their financial status,” said Harriet Torlesse, Regional Advisor for nutrition in Unicef South Asia.
Recent analysis also showed that babies belonging to wealthier families are more likely to miss out on continued breastfeeding.
In South Asia, 81 percent of babies aged 20-23 months from poorer families are breastfed compared to only 57 percent in richer families.
This trend is seen across the world with 7.6 million babies not being breastfed, and babies in the world’s richest countries are most likely to miss out.
On Mother’s Day, recognized in May in over 128 countries, the global Every Child ALIVE campaign is celebrating mothers and babies and their right to be supported through pregnancy, delivery and birth.