BREAST-FEEDING is declining steadily both in the United States and around the world, and two United Nations agencies are trying to do something about it.
In Washington this week, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an expansion of their nine-month-old "Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative," which aims to make hospitals more supportive of breast-feeding and to end the supply of free and cheap formula to all hospitals worldwide by the end of this year.
James Grant, executive director of UNICEF, and Dr. Hu Ching-Li, assistant director-general of WHO, cited 52 hospitals in 12 countries that have achieved "baby-friendly" status. The hope of the UN agencies is that other hospitals will strive for the UNICEF-WHO "seal of approval" by fulfilling the "10 steps to successful breast-feeding" the agencies have outlined.
"This is one area where, with 3,000, 4,000 children dying each day and many other consequences from ineffective breast-feeding, it isn't something that requires expenditure of money..." says Mr. Grant.
According to UNICEF and WHO, every facility providing maternity services should: 1. Have a breast-feeding policy communicated to all staff. 2. Train health-care staff in the policy. 3. Inform pregnant women about breast-feeding. 4. Help start breast-feeding within a half-hour of birth. 5. Show mothers how to breast-feed. 6. Give newborns no other food unless medically necessary. 7. Allow infants and mothers to stay together 24 hours a day. 8. Encourage breast-feeding on demand. 9. No pacifiers. 10. Promo te breast-feeding support groups.
The International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers has agreed to stop giving hospitals free and low-cost formula by the end of the year, though only in developing countries. The formula producers have not agreed to give up the practice in developed countries, because some manufacturers are not willing to give up this successful marketing tool in the wealthier countries. Britain and the Nordic nations already bar free formula in hospitals.
The benefits of breast-feeding are undisputed, even by the infant-formula manufacturers. Nutritionally, breast milk is the ideal food for babies. Doctors say it helps immunize babies from disease. Nursing helps foster a bond between mother and child. It's convenient and free (except for the extra food the mother should eat). Last week, the US government's Women Infants and Children nutrition program agreed to add more vegetables and juices to the food packages for nursing mothers. Before, nursing mother s got less-valuable packages compared with women who received infant formula.