Nutrition plays a significant role in children’s health and well-being. In fact, UNICEF estimates that nearly half of all deaths of children under 5 years are attributable to poor nutrition. It’s something we can change that’s within our grasp, which makes the current situation unacceptable.
Today marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s theme is A Key to Sustainable Development, in reference to the Sustainable Development Goals. What are the SDGs and why is breastfeeding important to the effort?
The SDGs are goals agreed by U.N. countries aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. Nutrition is at the root of health and well-being, plays a key role in achieving these goals.
The consumption of high-quality foods in appropriate quantities at the right stages of development helps children grow physically and intellectually into healthier adults. However, a lack of proper nutrition puts children at risk of dying from common childhood infections. It can cause stunting, wasting, chronic illness and life-long problems that are irrevocable.
One of the most important ways to ensure children, especially infants, are well-nourished is through breastfeeding. Proper nutrition is critical in the first 1,000 days of life and breast milk provides all the nutrients a newborn needs for the first 6 months of life; nothing else. After 6 months, continued breastfeeding along with complementary, solid foods should be added to the infant’s diet up to 2 years or beyond.
Sustainable Development Goals also referred to as the Global Goals for sustainable development
IMA World Health champions breastfeeding in our work. Ongoing projects in Indonesia and Tanzania focus on addressing stunting by teaching communities, especially parents, about the importance of breastfeeding. We stress in particular exclusive breastfeeding early on in an infant’s life.
Of course, for women who cannot breastfeed other solutions that ensure adequate nutrition are needed. Our goal – and the goal of promoting breastfeeding – is to ensure every child has a shot at health, healing and well-being. Here’s how we’re making that happen.
More than one-third of Indonesians under 5 years are stunted; at least two standard deviations below median height for age. One of the key contributors is a lack of breastfeeding, especially in the first 6 months. As part of the National Nutrition Communications Campaign funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, we are working to change behavior affecting childhood nutrition through the use of media, public discussions, workshops and trainings. Breastfeeding is one of the key messages in our campaign, which targets young mothers, mothers-to-be and caregivers, and reinforces best practices. We also provide support groups and classes for mothers so that they can have open discussions and learn how to do things like breastfeed. This may seem like a simple lesson, but the reality is that mother’s have different breastfeeding challenges.
The 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey indicates breastfeeding rates are low and exclusive breastfeeding is far from the norm. Many women consider breastfeeding a rudimentary practice, instead opting for synthetic formulas. This puts babies at risk for stunting and other challenges.
The ASTUTE project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, focuses on extending the time mothers exclusively breastfeed and helps them to learn about foods for babies that are complementary to breast milk. One of the project’s goals is to support mothers and educate them on the importance of breast milk, especially for infants, and how to initiate breastfeeding early. Since breast milk is recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF as the sole source of nutrition for newborns during the first 6 months, guiding, educating, promoting and supporting this neglected practice is urgent.