World Breastfeeding Week 2023: Supportive workplaces needed to reach global breastfeeding targets

Rate of breastfeeding at 48%, up by 10 percentage points over past decade, say WHO & UNICEF

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 02 August 2023
Breastfeeding rates drop significantly for women when they return to work, but the negative impact can be reversed when workplaces facilitate mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies. Photo: iStock__

Many countries have made significant strides towards increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on the first day of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1, 2023.  But even more progress can be made if breastfeeding is protected and supported, particularly in the workplace. 

Each year, the first week of August is designated as World Breastfeeding Week. The week-long event aims to raise awareness about the significance of breastfeeding for infant development.

The theme for this year is “Let’s make breastfeeding at work, work”, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the WHO announced, emphasising the need for greater breastfeeding support across all workplaces to sustain and improve progress on breastfeeding rates globally.

Read more: Breast milk substitute makers ‘insidiously’ targeting pregnant women, mothers on social media: WHO

Globally, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding has increased by a remarkable 10 percentage points over the past decade, reaching 48 per cent, the UN agencies said.

Countries as diverse as Ivory Coast, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Somalia and Vietnam have experienced significant increases in breastfeeding rates, demonstrating that progress is possible when breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported, they added.

Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding your baby only breast milk, not any other foods or liquids (including infant formula or water), except for medications or vitamin and mineral supplements.

UNICEF and WHO called on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to help eliminate barriers women and families face to achieving their breastfeeding goals and reach the global 2030 target of 70 per cent.

“Supportive workplaces are key. Evidence shows that while breastfeeding rates drop significantly for women when they return to work, that negative impact can be reversed when workplaces facilitate mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies,” the agencies said in a joint statement

Read more: Fewer kids under 3 breastfed within an hour of birth, finds NFHS-5

The UNICEF and WHO also asked for workplace policies to be more family-friendly, incorporating paid maternity leaves, breastfeeding breaks and a room where mothers can breastfeed or express milk. Workplaces must create an environment that benefits not only working women and their families but also employers, it said. 

Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace is good for mothers, babies and businesses. “These policies generate economic returns by reducing maternity-related absenteeism, increasing the retention of female workers and reducing the costs of hiring and training new staff,” the statement added. 

Breastfeeding is the ultimate child survival and development intervention, from the earliest moments of a child’s life, the agencies said. It protects babies from common infectious diseases and boosts children’s immune systems, providing the key nutrients children need to grow and develop to their full potential. 

Babies who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die before they reach their first birthday than babies who are exclusively breastfed. 

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