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Facts for Life

Of the many publications available emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding, one of the most accessible is "Facts for Life" sponsored by UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO in partnership with many of the world's leading medical and children's organizations. Here are some specific messages on this topic.

What every family and community has a right to know about breastfeeding

Babies fed on breastmilk have fewer illnesses and less malnutrition than babies that are fed on other foods. Bottlefeeding, especially in poor communities, is therefore a serious threat to the lives and health of millions of children.

Source: "Facts for Life: A Communication Challenge." UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO, 1989.

Breastmilk alone is the best possible food and drink for a baby in the first four-to-six months of life.

* From the moment of birth up to the age of four-to-six months, breastmilk is all the food and drink a baby needs. It is the best food a child will ever have. All substitutes, including cow's milk, milk-powder solutions, and cereal gruels, are inferior.

* Even in hot, dry climates, breastmilk contains sufficient water for a young baby's needs. Additional water or sugary drinks are not needed to quench the baby's thirst.

* Breastmilk helps to protect the baby against diarrhoea, coughs and colds, and other common illnesses. The protection is greatest when breastmilk alone is given to the baby during the first four-to-six months.

* Other foods and drinks are necessary when a baby reaches the age of four-to-six months. Until the age of nine or ten months, the baby should be breastfed before other foods are given. Breastfeeding should continue well into the second year of life - and for longer if possible.

* Frequent breastfeeding, both day and night, helps to delay the return of menstruation and so helps to postpone the next pregnancy. But breastfeeding, on its own, is not a reliable method of family planning.

Source: Reproduced from "My Name is Today" (1986), TALC. P.O. Box 49, St Albans, Herts AL1 4AX. U.K.

Bottlefeeding can lead to serious illness and death.

* Cow's milk, milk-powder solutions, maize gruel and other infant foods given by bottle do not give babies any special protection against diarrhoea, coughs and colds and other diseases.

* Bottlefeeding can cause illesses such as diarrhoea unless the water is boiled and the bottle and teat are sterilized in boiling water before each feed. The more often a child is ill, the more likely it is that he or she will become malnourished. That is why, in a community without clean drinking water, a bottlefed baby is 25 times more likely to die of diarrhoea than a baby fed exclusively on breastmilk for the first four-to-six months.

* The best food for a baby who, for whatever reason, cannot be breastfed, is milk squeezed from the mother's breast. It should be given in a cup that has been sterilized in boiling water. Cups are safer than bottles and teats because they are easier to keep clean.

* The best food for any baby whose own mother's milk is not available is the breastmilk of another mother.

* If non-human milk has to be used, it should be given from a clean cup rather than a bottle. Milk-powder solutions should be prepared using water that has been brought to the boil and then cooled.

* Cow's milk or milk-powder solution can cause poor growth if too much water is added in order to make it go further.

* Cow's milk or milk-powder solutions go bad if left to stand at room temperature for a few hours. Breastmilk can be stored for at least 8 hours at room temperature without going bad.

* In low-income communities, the cost of cow's milk or powdered milk, plus bottles, teats and the fuel for boiling water, can be 25-50% of a family's income.

Source: Facts for Life - A Communication Challenge. "UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO, 1989.

Recent Results - "Water supplementation in exclusively breastfed infants in the tropics"

This study from India, published in the Lancet on 20 April, showed that even in the heat, the breastfed infants studied were better off without any additional water (or anything else). "Our findings show that exclusively breastfed infants can adequately maintain water homoeostasis during summer months under the environmental conditions studied. Water supplementation is unnecessary and offers no additional advantage for maintaining hydration status", the authors state. "Among the potential hazards of water supplementation in the developing world, diarrhoea secondary to enteropathogen contamination and premature termination of breastfeeding are well documented. Our study also provides evidence of diminished breastmilk intake in infants receiving supplemental water."

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