ISLAMABAD-Health experts on Friday while stressing upon breastfeeding said that an estimated 22 per cent newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding is started within the first hour after birth.

It was highlighted in a dialogue held here in collaboration with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination.

The session shed light on the challenges and constraints in practicing optimal breastfeeding by mothers in the country.

The interactive discussion featured distinguished guests Ms. Kanwal Shauzab, Member National Assembly of Pakistan and Parliamentary Secretary Planning Development and Reform, Senator Dr. Meher Taj Roghani, and MNHSRC Director Nutrition Dr. Abdul Baseer Khan Achakzai.

The panel shared that breastfeeding reduces maternal and child morbidity and mortality and breastfed children have higher intelligence.

It is evident that breastfeeding is one of the best investments in saving lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations.

Breastfeeding is one of the most important public health interventions that we know of. It is perfect, entirely natural, 100 per cent nutritionally balanced and completely cost effective.

Breastfeeding has profound benefits for infants that extend beyond childhood, numerous benefits for mothers and the family. Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding is critical for the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It improves nutrition, prevents child mortality and decreases the risk of non-communicable diseases, and supports cognitive development and education.

Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth and reducing inequalities. All these are global goals under the SDGs that Pakistan has also committed to achieving.

The NNS 2018 data shows that around 4 to 5 out of every 10 mothers in the country initiate breastfeeding within first hour and exclusively breastfeed their new-borns for six months – an inevitable requirement to shield children from many health and nutrition related problems.

The panel as well as the audience agreed that more is needed to be done to save children from stunting, wasting and other nutrition-related challenges that they are faced with.

“Evidence shows that an estimated 22 per cent of newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding is started within the first hour after birth,” said Dr. Baseer Khan Achakzai.

UNICEF representative shared that research informed “infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than those who are exclusively breastfed.”

“Breastfeeding is amongst the most effective ways to protect maternal and child health, promote healthy growth and optimal development in early childhood,” said Ms. Kanwal Shauzab.

“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life,” Senator Dr. Meher Taj Roghani said.

The dialogue also reiterated the commitment of the Government of Pakistan and its partners, especially UNICEF, to target critical nutrition indicators on breastfeeding practices such as immediate and exclusive breastfeeding.

The panel also pushed for increased legislation on child nutrition, especially regulating breast milk substitutes such as formula milk rigorously.