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The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, WHO/UNICEF

Jane Tuttle, Cathy Liles, Mimi de Maza, Rachel O'Leary
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 3, June-July 2005, pp. 70-71.

Abstract

LLLI supports the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding -- the latest document from the World Health Organization (WHO). It shows how government, health services, and voluntary groups can work together for breastfeeding. Leaders can use the Strategy at Group meetings, World Breastfeeding Week and other publicity events, at meetings with health professionals, and at state or national committees. Copies of the Strategy are available from the LLLI Catalogue or on the WHO Web site at www.who.int/nut/documents/gs_infant_feeding_text_eng.pdf.

The vision presented in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (the Strategy) is one of a world that supports breastfeeding as the optimal feeding method. This vision is shared by La Leche League International as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. The Strategy is more than a mere call for action; it is a guide for coordinated activities to promote, protect, and support optimal feeding practices, particularly breastfeeding, for infants and young children around the world. At its November 2004 LLLI Board of Directors meeting, the Board voted to support the Strategy and to work to promote it.

Some of the Strategy will be familiar to breastfeeding advocates as it builds on the components of earlier WHO/UNICEF work such as The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes, and the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion, and Support for Breastfeeding. All of these documents have been supported by LLLI. What is unique about the Strategy is its integrated approach to implementation.

Applicable to both developed and developing nations, the Strategy addresses the need to improve infant feeding practices worldwide. Families must "have access to objective, consistent, and complete information about the appropriate infant feeding practices, free from commercial influences" (p.12). The Strategy emphasizes the need for competent support for breastfeeding, including mother-to-mother support. It also recommends provision for mothers to continue breastfeeding when they return to paid employment. These sections of the Strategy are consistent with what LLLI Leaders have been doing for nearly 50 years

The Strategy is firm that complementary foods must best meet the nutritional needs of the young child when transitioning from mother's milk. Foods should begin in a timely fashion when a child's nutritional needs are greater than human milk alone can meet. Foods should be adequate and safe: they should be of sufficient nutritional value and prepared and fed hygienically. Finally, complementary foods need to be properly fed: when a child is ready for food besides mother's milk and can feed himself with fingers or utensils. The use of teats and bottles is discouraged for children. Rather than allowing mother's milk substitutes to be the norm for infant feeding, the Strategy states "Infants who are not breastfed, for whatever reason, should receive special attention from the health and social welfare system since they constitute a risk group" (p. 10).

The Strategy suggests priorities for governments, organizations, and concerned parties. Governments need a national policy on the feeding of infant and young children as well as an action plan to accomplish their policy. Providing adequate financial resources and personnel to execute the plan is another obligation of every government. This means that this strategy is an excellent tool for advocacy at any level. LLL Leaders may use this tool with governments, health personnel, pediatricians, and also mothers.

It is the task of citizens of a nation to require their governmental agencies to move to action. Actions can be as simple as persistently writing letters to governmental agencies asking about their plans or questioning any of their practices toward optimal child feeding. Most governments produce data about health issues; we can demand that the information be of high quality and easily accessible. A question you may ask yourself is: Do you know where or how to access your national health data? If not, find out. That in itself is a move to action.

Organizations and passionate individuals can work toward improving public awareness of the importance of optimal feeding and the consequences of failure. When LLL Leaders have a display at a parenting or health fair or any other setting, they are building awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. Sharing a copy of the Strategy with health-related agencies is another way to increase knowledge about optimal feeding methods. The booklet is concise and easy to read. It is an advocacy tool.

How can we as Leaders use the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding? One way is to integrate some of the information into a Series Meeting on nutrition. Since the Global Strategy is a guide for action, you might introduce the Strategy to your Group and then have a discussion. Another option might be to have a discussion of ways in which the health and nutritional status of mothers and children are intimately linked. Group members might enjoy discussing how recommendations based on the best available scientific and epidemiological evidence are similar or different from their family and friends' experiences and their own intuition and experience. Another pertinent topic is what happens with inappropriate feeding practices -- both in malnourished and in over-nourished children. The following quote from the Strategy might also stimulate discussion: "Improved infant and young child feeding begins with ensuring the health and nutritional status of women, in their own right, throughout all stages of life and continues with women as providers for their children and families." Complementary feeding is an important topic for Leaders to discuss with mothers in any circumstances. It is important when Leaders work with low-income populations. It is especially crucial in developing countries where infant nutrition is a priority because of high rates of malnutrition in children under two years old.

The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding can also be shared with local health care providers or used as a topic for discussion at a maternal/child health coalition meeting. It is appropriate as a handout at baby fairs or health fairs. In states and countries where LLL is involved in breastfeeding committees, the Strategy can be used as a template for local planning. There is a discussion group on the Community Network where you can share ideas and experiences for using the Strategy.

LLLI supports the Strategy as its recommendations are consistent with our philosophy of mothering through breastfeeding. The Board encourages Leaders to read the Strategy and to share it with your community. By using the information and recommendations we can make this a breastfeeding world.

For more information, contact the chair of LLLI Board Action Committee.

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