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The Special Role of Maternity Services

A Joint WHO/UNICEF Statement entitled "Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breast-feeding, The special role of maternity services", lays out ten steps for maternity services; the Foreword by the Heads of the two agencies stresses their universal relevance.


In our world of diversity and contrast, we believe that this statement on the role of maternity services in promoting breastfeeding is striking for its universal relevance. The principles affirmed here apply anywhere maternity services are offered, irrespective of such labels as "developed" and "developing", "North" and "South", "modern" and "traditional". And the health professionals and other workers responsible for these services are well placed to apply them by providing the leadership needed to sustain, or if necessary re-establish, a "breast-feeding culture".

While discoveries are still being made about the many benefits of breast milk and breast-feeding, few today would openly contest the maxim "breast is best". Yet slogans, however accurate, are no substitute for action. That is why we invite all those concerned with providing maternity services to study this statement to see how they are helping or hindering breast-feeding. Are they encouraging and supporting mothers in every possible way? We urge them, wherever they might be, to ensure that their services are fully mobilized to this end and thereby to bear witness to the unequalled excellence of breast-feeding for infants and mothers alike.

Hiroshi Nakajima, M.D., Ph.D.
World Health Organization

James P. Grant
Executive Director
United Nations
Children's Fund

Ten steps to successful breast-feeding

Every facility providing maternity services and care for newborn infants should:

1. Have a written breast-feeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.

2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.

3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breast-feeding.

4. Help mothers initiate breast-feeding within a half-hour of birth.

5. Show mothers how to breast-feed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.

6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.

7. Practise rooming-in - allow mothers and infants to remain together - 24 hours a day.

8. Encourage breast-feeding on demand.

9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breast-feeding infants.

10. Foster the establishment of breast-feeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

Source: "Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breast-Feeding -The special role of maternity services." A Joint WHO/UNICEF Statement, WHO, Geneva, 1989.

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