WHO reveals the importance of Breastfeeding for a child’s health development

By Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO Representation

DILI, 1 august 2023 (TATOLI)- WHO country representative in Timor-Leste, Dr. Arvind Mathur said Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. It provides babies with the best source of nutrition, contributing to infant brain development, and offering lifelong benefits to both mother and the child.

The World Health Organization recommends that mothers should initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and continue exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. However, globally, only 40% of infants fewer than six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and Timor-Leste faces similar concerning statistics. The Timor-Leste Food and Nutrition Survey 2020 reveals that over half of newborns do not receive breastfeeding within the first hour of delivery, and nearly 36% of children between 0-5 months are not exclusively breastfed.

Every year, the first week of August is celebrated globally as World Breastfeeding Week, serving as a reminder of the actions needed to support all mothers in optimally breastfeeding their babies. This year, Breastfeeding Week also forms part of Timor-Leste’s National Breastfeeding Promotion Campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health in April, highlighting the government’s commitment to strengthen and promote breastfeeding interventions.

This trend must change. While World Breastfeeding Week serves as a reminder of the importance of addressing this issue, each one of us has a role to play in protecting, supporting, and promoting breastfeeding.

Achieving success in breastfeeding requires a collective responsibility, that depends on multifaceted policy and societal responses, rather than placing the burden solely on women. They need adequate time and support to breastfeed, and all of us can help in different ways.

Workplaces must bring in provisions of six months of paid maternity leave for mothers; paternity leave for fathers; suitable breastfeeding rooms or space and allowing mothers enough break time to express breastmilk or breastfeed. Globally there is evidence that women with more months of maternity leave report better breastfeeding durations than those with inadequately paid leaves. Women should not have to choose between breastfeeding their children and their jobs. Therefore, policymakers must ensure provisions are made for paid maternity leaves and develop breastfeeding-friendly accreditation packages for workplaces.

Increasing reliance on breastmilk substitutes or formula milk is another challenge that we must counter. Timor-Leste’s recent promulgation of the National decree-law on the regulation of the marketing of breast-milk substitutes is a step in the right direction. I am certain that the decree Law will be enacted and enforced soon to mitigate the negative, undermining the influence of commercial milk formulas.

The theme of this year’s Breastfeeding Week, ‘’Enabling breastfeeding: making a difference for working parents’, is particularly relevant to the challenges faced by working women in Timor-Leste. We have ample evidence to show the critical importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding for at least two years. However, many women struggle to breastfeed or stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended due to workplace challenges.

As a part of the National Breastfeeding Promotion Campaign and this year’s Breastfeeding Week, I urge everyone to enable mothers to choose to breastfeed while pursuing their professional growth. Let us not forget the vital role of breastfeeding in combatting malnutrition and building a healthier future for this country. Let’s work together to create environments where breastfeeding is fully supported, and mothers are empowered to give their children the best start in life.

World Breastfeeding Week: Let’s empower working mothers in Timor-Leste.


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