World Breastfeeding Week 2022: Vitamin Angels Steps Up for Breastfeeding

By Jillian Emerson, Associate Director, Nutrition and Technical Assistance

As a public health nonprofit working to improve the nutrition of pregnant women, new mothers and children under five worldwide, Vitamin Angels understands and appreciates the many benefits of breastfeeding on women’s and children’s health. But until now, you may not have associated Vitamin Angels with breastfeeding programming and support.

Vitamin Angels initially focused on ensuring access to Vitamin A supplementation for children under five – an important intervention that reduces the risk of illness and death in low-resource settings. We then strategically expanded our work to provide technical assistance needed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to activate or strengthen the delivery of Vitamin A, and extended our support into other proven nutrition interventions for the most vulnerable populations – pregnant women, infants and young children, such as increasing access to multiple micronutrient supplementation (MMS) for pregnant women to improve maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. Now, we reach more than 70 million women and children in 65 countries annually. Through this work, we’ve built up a network of over 1,200 local partners, including governments, NGOs, academic institutions and private sector organizations, allowing us to deliver products and offer technical assistance such as training and capacity building, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

Now, with this strong network in place, Vitamin Angels is continuing to expand its package of high-impact, evidence-based nutrition solutions. We are developing and scaling up programming supporting optimal nutrition behaviors during the critical first 1,000 days – from pregnancy through two years – when maternal, infant and young child nutrition is so vital to increasing child survival, improving growth and development, and ensuring positive health outcomes for the mother. Recognizing the high impact that breastfeeding has on health and nutrition, Vitamin Angels – working with our program partners – is committed to expanding our programming to address the large disparities in access to breastfeeding counseling and support globally.

Breastfeeding is one of the most high-impact ways to increase child health, well-being, and survival. In many settings, breastfeeding can mean the difference between life and death for babies. Often considered nature’s “personalized medicine,” antibodies are passed on to babies through breastmilk, providing protection from common childhood illnesses. Breastfed children have better cognitive outcomes and educational attainment, and lower risk of overweight/obesity and chronic disease later in life. The benefits to breastfeeding extend to mothers, as some studies have found an association between breastfeeding and lower risk of maternal depression, lower body mass index, and lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers. Studies estimate that improving breastfeeding could save the lives of over 820,000 children and 20,000 women each year. [1], [2]

We aim to support behavior change strategies and counseling for mothers to promote the early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, as recommended by the World Health Organization[3]. During this period, breastmilk provides all the essential vitamins and minerals needed to support early child growth, development and health. After six months, infants need more energy and nutrients than what can be provided by breastmilk alone. We support the introduction of nutrient-rich and age-appropriate complementary foods for infants and young children from 6-23 months of age, along with continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond.[4]

This World Breastfeeding Week, we are proud to step up for breastfeeding and join the organizations and individuals working to make an impact through breastfeeding promotion and support. Along with our program partners and donors, we recognize the incredible public health impact of breastfeeding for mothers, babies, communities and countries, and are grateful for the opportunity to work together to develop and implement programs to support breastfeeding around the world.

 

[1] Victora CG, Bahl R, Barros AJ, Franca GV, Horton S, Krasevec J, et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-90.

[2] World Health Organization. Breastfeeding: Overview (accessed July 25, 2022). https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1

[3] World Health Organization. Breastfeeding: Recommendations (accessed July 25, 2022). https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_2

[4] World Health Organization. The World Health Organization's infant feeding recommendation (accessed July 25, 2022). https://apps.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/index.html

 

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