NEW YORK, United States of America, August 6, 2020/ — The appeal, during World Breastfeeding Week, comes as WHO warned that not using mother’s milk is linked to 820,000 child deaths a year, at a cost to the global economy of $300 billion.
“WHO has been very clear in its recommendations to say absolutely breastfeeding should continue,” said Dr. Laurence Grummer-Strawn, head of the World Health Organization’s Food and Nutrition Action in Health Systems unit. “We have never documented, anywhere around the world, any (COVID-19) transmission through breastmilk.”
Exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many benefits for the infant and mother which far outweigh any risk from the new coronavirus pandemic, according to WHO.
These advantages include the fact that breastmilk – including milk which is expressed – provides lifesaving antibodies that protect babies against many childhood illnesses.
This is only one of the reasons why new mothers should initiate “skin-to-skin contact” and “room-in” with their babies quickly, as “the risks of transmission of the COVID-19 virus from a COVID-positive mother to her baby seem to be extremely low”, added Dr. Grummer-Strawn.
Having tested the breastmilk of “many” mothers around the world in a variety of studies, the WHO official explained that although a few samples had contained the virus, “when they followed up to see whether the virus was actually viable and could be infective, they could not find any actual infective virus”.
Underscoring the WHO’s longstanding support for using mother’s milk over substitutes, Dr. Grummer-Strawn also warned that the pandemic had weakened essential breastfeeding support usually provided to families with newborns.
COVID ‘undermining essential support’
“The interruption of services has been tremendous around the world providing the kind of support mothers normally would get with breastfeeding,” Dr. Grummer-Strawn told journalists.
“Oftentimes, the health services that would provide maternal child health have been diverted to take care of the COVID response; sometimes families do not feel comfortable in going into the health services, because they’re afraid that they might get COVID and so they don’t come for the routine kinds of support.”
According to the WHO, “about 820,000 children’s lives are lost every year because of a lack of breastfeeding”, Dr. Grummer-Strawn continued, in reference to deaths among under-fives. “Economically, there are losses of about $300 billion a year in economic productivity, lost because of a lack of breastfeeding,” he added.
Numerous good things come from breastfeeding – for the child and their mother in developing and industrialized countries – WHO has long maintained.
It has insisted that “it is not safer to give infant formula milk”, together with UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).
Benefits for baby and mother
The three organizations have united in their call to Governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling, for World Breastfeeding Week 2020 (1-7 August).
“Breastfeeding provides benefits during the time of breastfeeding, and those that are most recognised are protection against diarrhoea, which is one of the top causes of mortality in low-income countries, protection against respiratory infections, against obesity – childhood obesity later on – as children get older, protection against leukaemia,” said Dr. Grummer-Strawn.