His Excellency, Dr Sayyari, Deputy Health of the Minister of Health
Dr Ayazi, Deputy Social Affairs of the Minister of Health
Dr Kalantari, Advisor to the Deputy Health Minister
Dr Marandi, Director General of the Medical Academy of Sciences
Dr Jafarian, Dean of Tehran University
Today as we gather here to commemorate World Breastfeeding Day, all of us as parents, policy-makers and experts, agree that breastfeeding is a vital part of providing our children with the healthiest start to life. It is a baby’s first vaccine and the best source of nutrition.
This World Breastfeeding Week, observed 1 – 7 August 2017, UNICEF globally will join its partners in the new Global Breastfeeding Collective to highlight the importance of breastfeeding for children and nations. The Collective is a partnership of non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and donors led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to accelerate progress towards international breastfeeding targets which call for at least a 50 per cent rate of exclusive breastfeeding by 2025. The Collective’s mission is to rally political, legal, financial, and public support for breastfeeding, which will benefit mothers, children, and society. All such effort is in keeping with the spirit and theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week ”Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.”
The longstanding benefits of breastfeeding are backed by strong scientific evidence. A study published in the Lancet magazine in 2016 showed that early initiation of breastfeeding is associated with lower mortality rates. The same study showed that longer periods of breastfeeding are associated with a reduction in a child’s risk of being overweight or obese in adulthood.
As Iran’s local theme for this year’s breastfeeding day, “Smart and Strong with breastfeeding”, suggests breastfeeding is linked to making children smarter. The findings of 16 observational studies conducted over the past few years have proven that breastfeeding enhances the neurodevelopment of infants and their intellectual and scholastic ability in later life and is associated with an IQ increase of 3 to 4 points. These benefits are strongest for the infants of low birth weight who are breastfed.
Breastfeeding has been emphasized and recommended in at least eight Surahs of the Holy book of Qoran. It is also a critical element to achieve several of the Sustainable Development Goals including the goals on health, education, gender equity and protecting the environment.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, with all such benefits known to all, what are the different barriers that could contribute to a mother’s decision to stop breastfeeding early? Not having breastfeeding-friendly workplaces and employment opportunities is one of them. One study on breastfeeding indicated that interventions such as maternity leave and workplace support led to a 30 per cent increase in breastfeeding rates. Yet only about 10 per cent of the world’s countries provide paid maternity leave of at least 18 weeks with pay guarantees when women return to work.
Lack of support from the community and family members is another barrier. Breastfeeding is not just a one woman job. It requires encouragement and support from skilled counsellors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers and others. Studies show that community-based interventions such as group counselling and education can increase timely breastfeeding initiation by 86 per cent.
Breastfeeding is indeed a smart investment not only in the health of children, but also in the wealth of nations. The forthcoming UNICEF report on breastfeeding shows that every US$1 invested in breastfeeding generates an estimated US$35 in economic returns for countries. The benefits of breastfeeding for children and their mothers have the power to improve a country’s prosperity with lower health care costs and stronger, more able workforces.
In UNICEF, we stand ready as always to support the government in increasing the rate of breastfeeding. As per the current Country Programme of Cooperation agreed between UNICEF and the Islamic Republic of Iran for 2017 to 2021, UNICEF will support the Ministry of Health in building the technical capacity of national experts on promotion of breastfeeding by facilitating exchange of knowledge and expertise between Iran and other countries.
Breastfeeding is also an integral part of a number of ongoing activities for newborn health conducted by the Ministry of Health with UNICEF support, including the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) initiative and Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP).