On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) emphasized the importance of health care providers in urging new mothers to breastfeed their children.

The special week began on Sunday and will last until Saturday. It is promoted by UNICEF along with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). “As part of the week’s activities UNICEF and its partners are asking health professionals to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their children,” Martin Nesirky, UN spokesperson, told reporters here on Monday.

The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is “Just 10 Steps - the Baby Friendly Way.” It will highlight 10 strategies that WHO and UNICEF originally proposed in 1989 to help medical care providers promote breastfeeding in maternal health facilities worldwide.

“UNICEF’s experts believe the 10 steps should be standard practice in all maternity facilities,” UNICEF said in a press release issued here. “Breastfeeding support in maternity facilities should also be complimented by primary health care, community and workplace support to reach mothers beyond the first few days in the maternity ward and information for mothers who deliver their babies at home.” According to UNICEF, breastfeeding is very healthy for infants, giving them essential nutrients and preventing disease as well as helping them grow and develop. The partners involved in World Breastfeeding Week urge new mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life and then combine breastmilk with other feeding as the baby gets older. “While the benefits for children are beyond question, the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding is still only around 37 per cent,” said UNICEF. “The information that mothers receive from healthcare providers exerts a strong influence on their attitudes to breastfeeding. Healthcare professionals can play a vital role in encouraging new mothers to breastfeed their newborns.”