In August 1990, government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organisations got together and signed Innocenti Declaration, which aimed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Commemorates the Innocenti Declaration, ever since, the World Breastfeeding Week has been celebrated every year from August 1 to 7. The initiative encourages breastfeeding and spreads awareness on how mother’s milk helps improve the health of newborns around the world and make their immunity system stronger.

Breastfeeding is considered the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour of birth until a baby is six months old. Breastfeeding can be continued up to 2 years of age, complemented with nutritious complementary foods and water.

WHO is working with UNICEF and other partners this year to promote the importance of helping mothers breastfeed newborns within the crucial first hour of birth. According to experts, skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulates the production of breastmilk. Especially significant for the newborns is the colostrum — the first milk, slight yellowish in colour — also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’, which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.

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What is Innocenti Declaration?

August 2018 marks 28 years of the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding, which was produced at the WHO/UNICEF policymakers’ meeting on “Breastfeeding in the 1990s: A Global Initiative” in Italy’s Florence. Adopted by all WHO and UNICEF Member States, the declaration has been a key strategy on improving the health of infants through optimal nutrition.

The Innocenti Declaration recognises breastfeeding has a unique process that ensures the following:

* Provides ideal nutrition for infants and contributes to their healthy growth
* Reduces incidence and severity of infectious diseases, lowering infant morbidity and mortality
* Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer among women

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The Innocenti Declaration says all women should be enabled to practise exclusive breastfeeding and all infants should be fed exclusively on breastmilk up to 4-6 months of age “as a global goal for optimal maternal and child health and nutrition”. It says an appropriate environment of awareness and support needs to be created to achieve this child feeding ideal.

The declaration also says obstacles to breastfeeding within the health system, the workplace and the community must be eliminated, and measures should be taken to ensure women are adequately nourished for their optimal health and that of their families.

The 1990 Innocenti Declaration had specific recommendations for all governments to develop national breastfeeding policies and set appropriate national targets. It urged national authorities to integrate breastfeeding policies into their overall health and development policies, specifying that all healthcare staff should be trained in the skills necessary to implement these policies.