WHO: Breastfeeding is safe during Covid-19 pandemic
Thursday, 28 May 2020
The coronavirus crisis highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast-milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices.
A new report published yesterday (27 May) by WHO, UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) reveals that despite efforts to stop the harmful promotion of breast-milk substitutes, countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information.
In July 2019, WHO reported that it had found evidence of poor nutritional quality and misleading promotion of foods for infants and children under the age of 36 months. The findings run against WHO recommendations and challenge stakeholders to improve the way recommendations and guidelines on child health are implemented in EU member states and other countries.
Breastmilk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses. In the new report, WHO and UNICEF encourage women to continue to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
While researchers continue to test breastmilk from mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.
The numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus. It is not safer to give infant formula milk, according to the report.
While the majority of countries analysed in the report have put in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, the legal restrictions in most countries do not fully cover marketing that occurs in health facilities.
Only 19 countries have prohibited the sponsorship of scientific and health professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula, and growing up milks marketed for use by infants and children up to 36-months old.
“The aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, especially through health professionals that parents trust for nutrition and health advice, is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health worldwide,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.
WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies be fed nothing but breast milk for their first 6 months. A global recommendation by WHO sets the target of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months to at least 50% by 2025. However, today, only 41% of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed.