Cooperation and coordination to improve maternal and infant health in the Russian Federation
According to the National Coordinating Center on Breastfeeding Support, people are not always made aware of the benefits that breastfeeding can give to mother and child. On World Breastfeeding Week, WHO/Europe highlights how breastfeeding provides the best start to life for infants.
In 2019 the National Coordinating Center on Breastfeeding Support, inspired by the work of WHO in the field of breastfeeding, was established as an initiative of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The principal goals of the center focused on raising a healthier generation by improving breastfeeding rates in the country, as well as developing a systematic approach to the implementation of breastfeeding policies.
Although approximately 40% of infants in the Russian Federation are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months, which is a higher rate than in many countries in the WHO European Region, these rates vary greatly in different parts of the country, depending on cultural and socioeconomic factors. A unifying initiative, such as the creation of the National Coordinating Center on Breastfeeding Support, provides an opportunity to effectively monitor breastfeeding rates, identify barriers and develop proposals for a legislative framework in this area.
Reviving the breastfeeding culture through education and information
Breastfeeding is the best possible start to life for a newborn. WHO recommends that breastfeeding start within the first hour of birth and be exclusive for 6 months, with the introduction of complementary food after 6 months and continued breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or beyond.
Young mothers are not always aware of these recommendations or of the health benefits that breastfeeding brings to both mother and child, such as protection against noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer. A primary goal of the center is to make sure that mothers are provided with knowledge and support for breastfeeding so that they can make an informed decision about their health and the health of their family.
“It is known that breast milk is the ideal food for a newborn, especially in the first months of life”, says Olga Ladodo, Director of the National Coordinating Center on Breastfeeding Support. “Choosing breastfeeding means choosing a healthy future for your child. All mothers need to know that”.
A recent survey of 9 000 women, conducted by the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, found that approximately 60% of respondents prefer to get information on breastfeeding from health care workers, as opposed to books, brochures or the Internet. This highlights the importance of continued professional training for health workers and raising the number of lactation consultants and nurses to support breastfeeding.
Supporting breastfeeding at the national level brings benefits
The overwhelming evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding for maternal and newborn health and well-being is complemented by data showing that policy interventions to improve breastfeeding practices are cost-effective. This means that the money invested by governments creates returns in the form of significant public health benefits.
“The establishment of the National Coordinating Center on Breastfeeding Support is a good example of cooperation and support at the national level”, says Dr Melita Vujnovic, WHO Representative to the Russian Federation. “We work together with the Ministry of Health to support initiatives that can develop effective legislative proposals and improve public health and well-being”.
Monitoring national breastfeeding rates is a complicated issue in any country, and even more so in a large and diverse country like the Russian Federation. The center’s efforts to develop and coordinate efficient methods of monitoring can provide an overview of the breastfeeding practices and barriers, better tailoring policy measures to country or subregional needs.
“Breastfeeding is an important means of protecting against noncommunicable diseases, which account for the greatest share of premature deaths in the WHO European Region”, says Dr Joao Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. “That is why the NCD Office supports all countries in our region in scaling up implementation of the baby-friendly hospital initiative, strengthening the International Code of Monitoring of Breast-milk Substitutes, health literacy and surveillance of breastfeeding practices.”
World Breastfeeding Week
The annual World Breastfeeding Week, which takes place from 1–7 August, is an opportunity to underline the importance of sustaining and increasing the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding. All countries in the WHO European Region can improve maternal and newborn health, and should make breastfeeding policies a priority.
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