Countries throughout the Americas are joining together to observe World Breastfeeding Week, with a special focus on complementary feeding after six months of exclusive breastfeeding. The week of August 1-7 has the theme, "Breastfeeding and Family Foods: Loving and Healthy," highlighting the importance of timely, adequate, safe, and properly fed complementary foods.
Adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is fundamental to the development of each child's full potential, with the first two years of life representing a critical "window of opportunity" to promote optimal growth, health, and mental development. While breastfeeding is recommended until the child reaches age 2 or beyond, experts recommend providing complementary foods, along with continued breastfeeding, after the age of six months to sustain healthy growth.
World Breastfeeding Week, observed the first week of August every year by the countries, the Pan American Health Organization, and other agencies, aims to spread information globally about the importance of breastfeeding for maternal and child health. In the Americas, ministries of health, non-governmental organizations, and families are observing the week in a variety of ways, including conferences, parades, art shows, and special events.
A recent article in British Medical Journal The Lancet noted that interventions to promote optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are two out of the three most effective preventive interventions available to prevent child mortality, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals. The benefits of breastfeeding during the critical first two years of development, even in the most privileged environments, are indisputable, and that there are measurable risks for infants not breast-fed, including diarrheal disease, acute respiratory infections, ear infections and deficits in mental development.
Breastfeeding also benefits women's health by reducing the risk of ovarian and pre-menopausal breast cancer, and helps women to return to their normal weight after pregnancies.
Important interventions to improve breastfeeding include the implementation and monitoring of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. More recently, the WHO Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding was endorsed by the World Health Assembly to focus attention on the impact of good feeding practices on the survival of infants and young children.
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise the quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.