By Gozde Bayar
ANKARA (AA) - Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800,000 lives every year, said the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement.
The organization released the statement on Thursday on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated on Aug. 1-7 to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies.
Focusing this year on the "Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding" theme, the WHO is working with the UNICEF and other partners to shed light on the importance of family-friendly policies which enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture.
The two organizations call on governments and employers to adopt family-friendly policies including paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks as well as paid paternity leave, said the statement.
The WHO also called for "greater investments in comprehensive breastfeeding programs" and an "end to the promotion of breast-milk substitutes."
It stressed that family-friendly policies support women participation in the workforce, improve their physical and mental well-being and enhance family bond.
"Increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800 000 lives every year, the majority being children under 6 months," it said, adding that increased breastfeeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.
The benefits of breastfeeding include "decrease in the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease," the statement also said.
Dr. Okan Bulent Yildiz, an endocrinologist at Hacettepe University Medical School in the Turkish capital Ankara, told Anadolu Agency that breastfeeding after birth has the potential to reduce the risk of many diseases, including vessel stiffness as well as breast and ovarian cancers.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome by about 20-50%, he said.
Dr. Ilke Mungan Akin, who lectures at the University of Health Sciences in Istanbul, also told Anadolu Agency that breast milk is the ideal, original and natural nutrition which cannot be replaced with anything.
"Unfortunately, only 43% of babies under six months are breastfed on a global scale. Babies, who are never breastfed, have 14 times higher risk of death than those who are exclusively breastfed", stressed Akin.