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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – Experts Say Babies Should Be Fed Only Breast Milk for the First Six Months - 2004-08-15

Broadcast: August 16, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Health experts commonly advise mothers to feed babies only breast milk for the first six months. They say no other food is more valuable to the development of a child. The World Health Organization says children can be breastfed as part of their diet for up to two years or longer. Yet it says only one out of three babies is fed only breast milk for even just four months.

Breast milk helps protect children from infections and disease. It can prevent common sicknesses, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. And it can help babies recover more quickly if they do get sick.

Studies also show that mothers who breastfeed reduce their risk of cancer in the reproductive organs. Breastfeeding also saves money, compared to milk substitutes.

The first week in August is World Breastfeeding Week. The campaign this year involved the idea of exclusive breastfeeding. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action say babies can be fed drops or syrups with extra vitamins and minerals. But exclusive means no other foods or drinks for six months.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, offer some steps for mothers. First, they say breastfeeding should start within the first hour after a baby's birth. Second, the baby should not receive any other food or drink, including water. Third, babies should be breastfed whenever they are hungry – day or night. And, lastly, the agencies say there should be no use of bottles, pacifiers or other equipment.

International health experts say traditional ways to measure child growth do not recognize things like the importance of breastfeeding. So the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving more than six million dollars to the W.H.O. for a six-year project. The money will be used to develop new tools to measure the health and well-being of young people.

Current growth standards describe how children grow at different times. The new standards will also be linked to motor development. Experts say the message here is that physical growth is not the only part of normal development.

Doctor Mercedes de Onis heads the W.H.O. project. She says the current growth standards used by ninety-nine countries do not support international health goals. She notes that one of these goals is to increase breastfeeding.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Gwen Outen.