To mark the start of World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has called for improved awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is directly linked to reducing the death toll of children under five, yet only 36 per cent of infants under six months old in developing countries are exclusively breastfed.

“With so much at stake, we need to do more to reach women with a simple, powerful message: Breastfeeding can save your baby’s life,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.  “No other preventive intervention is more cost effective in reducing the number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthdays.”

“Breastfed is best fed, whether the baby is born in Uganda or England, China or Canada,” said Lake.

Yet, while breastfeeding rates in the developing world are on the rise in two-thirds of countries with trend data, millions of infants are not benefiting from this life-saving practice.

It is clear that a broader audience of advocates needs to be cultivated using new and creative ways to communicate with mothers and families.  Raising awareness beyond the confines of the maternity ward is critical to reach these broader audiences, including children and young people.

UNICEF embraces the idea of using all possible means of communication and encourages others to do the same, using the opportunity of World Breastfeeding Week to trigger action the whole year round.

This year’s celebration emphasises the role that every member of society can play to raise awareness about breastfeeding – a natural and nurturing start to life for infants and mothers. It also emphasises that communication on breastfeeding should take advantage of non-traditional and newer communication tools such as social networking, blogs, mobile phone technology, the arts and flash mobs.