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58th World Health Assembly
Statement by La Leche League International,
a Nongovernmental Organization in official relations with WHO

Heidi Kuonen-Goetz, LLL Leader, Switzerland, represented La Leche League International at the 58th World Health Assembly (WHA) that was held in Geneva Switzerland, May 16-25, 2005.

Mr. Chair, Member States,

Thank you for providing this oppurtunity for La Leche League International (LLLI) to briefly address the 58th World Health Assembly.

In celebration of World Health Day, April 7,2005, LLLI joined the World Health Organization in recognizing the importance of maternal and child health in building strong families, communities, and societies.

Breastfeeding provides the cornerstone for life-long good health. While we live in an age of technological advances, we need look no further than the simple, time-tested, readily available, lowcost, and largely untapped resource of human milk to make a major impact on child and mother health.

The health benefits of breastfeeding extend to the mother as well. Breastfeeding lowers her risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and postpartum haemorrhaging. Most of all, breastfeeding empowers women:
• Breastfeeding reduces a mother's economic and medical dependence.
• Breastfeeding diminishes the power of commercial interests to manipulate in the advertising of breastmilk substitutes.
• Breastfeeding confirms a woman's power to control her own body.
• Breastfeeding confirms a woman's unique ability to care for her infant in the best way possible.
• Breastfeeding challenges the view of breasts as only sex objects.
Breastfeeding empowers women by giving them the ability to act and the right to do so. An environment that supports breastfeeding is one that ensures that women have the right to correct information to make informed choices, the right to legal protection and social support for breastfeeding in public and at work, and the right to skilled counselling and sympathetic support.1

Breastfeeding acts as a natural child spacer, ensuring that a woman's body has adequate time between births to recover and prepare for another pregnancy. A woman's ability to nourish her infant through breastfeeding does not depend on social status, and breastfeeding provides an equal beginning to both male and female infants.

In even the most optimal economic setting, artificial breastmilk substitutes significantly compromise the health and well-being of mothers and babies. Seeing that powdered formula that meets current standards is not a sterile product and may occasionally contain pathogens adds to the problems mothers face when confronted with options about infant feeding.

As obvious as it would seem that breastfeeding could play a major role in improving health for mother and child, sadly, less than 35% of all infants are exclusively breastfed even for the first four months.2 Certainly, there are challenges that exist that keep that statistic low, including the inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes and a general lack of appreciation of the economic value of breastfeeding. These challenges reinforce the global call to action as laid out in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. Breastfeeding is also a key intervention in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.3

La Leche League International has been comitted to this effort for nearly a half-century. With over 12,500 accredited La Leche League Leaders and breastfeeding peer counsellors in 65 countries LLLI provides information and support through group meetings, one-on-one counseling, publications in 25 languages, and on-going education in the form of international, regional, national, and local level conferences and seminars. The LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information is one of the world's largest professional collections of breastfeeding-related materials.4 The strength of LLLI's approach is based on mother-to mother support that breastfeeding, though natural, is a learned behavior, best learned by watching other mothers.

It is a global responsibility to create supportive environments in order that mothers and babies can initiate breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding as they desire. La Leche League International stands ready to continue working towards the goal of making every mother and child count--through breastfeeding, one baby at a time.

1. World Breastfeeding Week 1995, INFACT Canada
2. WHO Global Strategy for Infant And Young Child Feeding. 2003
3. UNICEF. The Millenium Development Goals. 2003
4. La Leche League International. 2004 Annual Report

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