Afghanistan: World breastfeeding week puts spotlight on improved feeding practices

Campaign stresses that exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, and careful introduction of other foods thereafter, is essential to children's healthy development.

Kabul, 28 July 2005 - This year's World Breastfeeding Week begins on Monday 1 August, with the message that parents must adopt the best possible feeding practices, especially when considering introducing complementary foods to a child's diet.

While most Afghan mothers do breastfeed their newborn children, it is common for many mothers to discard the initial milk produced which is known to contain the antibodies and growth agents that are of critical importance in the early days of a child's life. In addition, the introduction of inappropriate foods such as tea and bread at too early a stage in an infant's development, and the delay in introducing nutritious foods, are both known to be common bad practices in the country. Less than one-third of Afghan infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life, which is considered to be the global standard; many young infants are introduced to additional foods at an early age, which can reduce the natural demand for breast milk. These poor caring practices are believed to be a contributing factor to infant and child mortality in Afghanistan; 54 per cent of Afghan children under the age of five are stunted, while 40 per cent are underweight - both conditions are known to be linked to inadequate feeding practices. In addition, by not properly breastfeeding their children, parents diminish the benefits of improved immunity to disease that breast milk is known to provide.

To help families better understand the importance of breastfeeding, and to help parents introduce complementary foods in a safe and healthy manner, at the right time, a series of events is being organized during World Breastfeeding Week in Afghanistan. Following the official launch on Monday, events will include radio and television broadcasts, round table discussions, school competitions and special teachings during Friday prayers -all bringing home the message that breastfeeding is essential to a child's health development, and that improved feeding practices are critical to a child's survival.

In particular, the campaign's core message stresses the need for exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and careful introduction of appropriate foods thereafter as essential to safe growth and development. Mothers will be advised to choose foods that are high in nutrients, and prepared in a way that makes them easy for young children to digest. Most importantly, the campaign will remind families that children can continue to be breastfed after the age of six months, as well as receiving these complementary foodstuffs. Breastfeeding beyond six months of age continues to help build the child's immune system and helps children recover from illness as well as providing ongoing nutritional value.

World Breastfeeding Week in Afghanistan will be officially launched on Monday 1 August, at a special ceremony at the Ministry of Public Health, starting at 9 a.m. The campaign is being supported by a wide cross-section of Government and other partners, including the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, UNICEF, WHO, WFP, UNAMA and a number of national and international NGOs.