Celebrating the life-saving action of breastfeeding

Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding week. The days prior were established by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, WHO and UNICEF to emphasize the value of breastfeeding for mothers and children. Breastfeeding is an important means to protect children from illness and even death. Infants who are not exclusively breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die of diarrhea, the two leading killers of children under five. Although breastfeeding is the world’s most effective solution to reducing child deaths, global breastfeeding rates have stagnated at below 40 percent for two decades. But it is not too late to encourage mothers to give their babies the best start in life.

The television commercial shown below, which aired last month in Pakistan, is produced by a maternal and child health program funded by USAID. Greenstar, PSI’s network member in Pakistan, is one of the implementing partners for this program.

Ayesha Leghari, who is part of this maternal and child health program at Greenstar, is one of the mothers who could have used this message years ago when she was a new mother. She shares her story below.

“When my eldest son was born, the elders of my family told me to dispose of the breast milk I first produced because it was considered dirty and stale. I showed no hesitance in wasting it since it did seem stale to me. With the birth of my second baby, I did the same – I threw out the thick, yellow milk within the first hour of giving birth.

I learned just how wrong this was when I started working for Greenstar’s USAID-funded maternal and child health program in Pakistan. A pang of guilt ran through my body when I learned that the “stale” milk – which is actually called Colostrum – that I had so promptly wasted was filled with the most essential nutrients that I could have given my newborns. Colostrum is rich in vital nutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, vitamin A, and sodium chloride, which helps protect newborns from viral infections, diarrhea, and jaundice.

It is a bit ironic that I am working to educate mothers about breastfeeding, when I was once a mother who needed to learn a thing or two. Developing the television commercial shown above – the first mass media campaign on exclusive breastfeeding in Pakistan – taught me about the myths and misconceptions that exist in our society, and how these small neglected behaviors affect the health of our children throughout their lives. My hope is that this program educates all mothers in Pakistan – so that we can give our children the best start in life.”