Ma Yili, UNICEF advocate for breastfeeding [File Photo]
As China joins in World Breastfeeding Week celebrations, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) calls on fathers, families, health workers, employers, trade unions and the public at large to do more to empower all mothers, especially working women, to breastfeed.
This year's World Breastfeeding Week, an annual event which runs each year from August 1-7, aims to promote the power of breastfeeding to help children survive and thrive, is dedicated to breastfeeding in the work place.
Worldwide, only 38 percent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed and in China the national rate is even lower at 28 percent. Exclusive breastfeeding rates drop significantly after three months, when the maternity leave granted according to Chinese law ends and when women return to work.
To promote the creation of a breastfeeding culture, and in an effort to reverse the downward trends, UNICEF is supporting the Chinese government in leading efforts to mobilize all sectors of society including employers, trade unions, women's organizations and the health system to foster a supportive environment.
Based on the scientific evidence linked to the lifelong benefits of breastfeeding, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, starting immediately after birth, and thereafter continue breastfeeding, supplemented adequately with other feeding for at least one year and a half.
"We know one of the most important early investments a family can make in the life of a child is to help mother's breastfeed their infants. Yet many working mothers lack the supportive environment, including space, and time, which can limit a mother's ability to breastfeed or express (pump) milk once they have resumed work," said Tim Sutton, UNICEF Deputy Representative for China. "Co-workers, families, and communities need to create and foster a dignified, enabling environment that allows working mothers to do their work, to breastfeed and thus, to do the best for their children's development."
Already the Chinese government is in line with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183), which requires a minimum of 14 weeks or 98 days of maternity leave and time for breastfeeding breaks after return to work.
With initiation of breastfeeding critical as soon as a baby is born, the government has re-evaluated the Baby-friendly Hospital initiative, initially launched in 1991 by UNICEF and WHO to ensure that all maternity hospitals became centers of breastfeeding support and to counteract aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes. As part of this effort, doctors, nurses and health workers in 7000 hospitals across the country have been re-trained in the 10 specific steps to help new mothers breastfeed from the very beginning of their children's life.
This year, as part of the celebrations, 10M2 of Love, a campaign initiated in 2013 by UNICEF and the National Center for Women and Children's Health, will be promoted and expand to include new partners. Designed to overcome barriers many breastfeeding mothers face to find a safe and quiet place they can breastfeed, it encourages the creation of supportive spaces in public and in the workplace where women can go to breastfeed. These locations are mapped on a downloadable app that can help share the location with other mothers in need.
Ma Yili, UNICEF advocate for breastfeeding and herself a mother of two, has added her voice by working with the National Health and Family Planning Commission to record a public service announcement for national television and that will be shown in other public outlets.
"We welcome the Chinese government's leadership and commitment to create a culture of breastfeeding from birth in hospitals, at home and in public and work spaces. We know that in a fast changing world, where new pressures of juggling families and work, continuing this age-old practice can be difficult for mothers. Yet study after study demonstrates this is the best investment in a child's survival and growth and there is no comparable substitute for a child's growth and development than breast milk." said Tim Sutton, UNICEF Deputy Representative for China.
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