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Breast milk is the only food that the child needs for the first six months of life. Other types of food or drink, including water, would increase the risk of diarrhea or another illness. Breast milk is the "first immunization" of the baby, there are no alternative formulas for its protection.
In 1979, in view of the decline in breastfeeding rates worldwide, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) organized a meeting on infant and young child feeding. The result was the recommendation of an International Code to control the marketing practices of infant formulas and other products used as substitutes for breast milk, that is, as partial or total substitutes for breast milk.
In May 1981, the World Health Assembly (WHA) approved the International Code of Breast-milk Substitutes.
Since 1981, 24 countries have adopted the code in whole or in part and a further 27 countries have incorporated many of the norms stipulated therein into their national legislation.
The 1992 International Conference on Nutrition in Rome, defined that one of the main strategies to reduce hunger and malnutrition is through promoting breastfeeding, concluding that one of the actions to increase the rates of breastfeeding in the world is the implementation of the monitoring of the International Code. Said Code, 25 years later, continues to be "the cornerstone" for public health authorities in regulating some basic rules such as:
- Do not advertise breast milk substitutes, bottles, or nipples.
- Do not give free samples to mothers.
- Failure to run promotions in health systems, including failing to offer free or low-cost formula supplies.
- Do not allow donations or free samples to be given to health workers.
- Do not use photographs of babies, or words that idealize artificial feeding on product labels; the information provided to health workers must be scientific and objective.
Information on artificial feeding, including that on labels, should explain the benefits and superiority of breastfeeding and alert people to the dangers associated with artificial feeding.
The implementation of the Code is essential for the health of infants and girls.
Despite the challenges posed by socio-political upheavals, the HIV pandemic, and natural and man-made disasters, there are more women who are exclusively breastfeeding in the first six months. However, even in places where breastfeeding is part of the culture, conditions may not be optimal; And when the common practice is artificial feeding, the consequences could be dire.
Delaying or restricting the intake of breast milk and substituting it with other products before six months, continues to be the common practice that increases the risk of infections, allergies, long-term illness and death.
Feeding with breast milk and good nutrition in childhood are crucial aspects to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and, in particular, those that refer to child survival, such as reducing the mortality rate among minors by two thirds five years by 2015, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
UNICEF works with partners, governments and communities to protect and promote breastfeeding, supporting national laws related to newborn feeding, improving prenatal and postnatal care, and providing resources to new mothers at the community level. Another high priority for UNICEF is supporting breastfeeding during emergencies, when poor eating practices often contribute to infant mortality.