The United Nations children's agency called Sunday for Iraqi mothers to breastfeed their babies rather than resorting to infant formula that might spread waterborne diseases.
Iraq distributes formula free through its food rationing system and only one in four nursing mothers relies entirely on her own milk -- a situation that UNICEF's Iraq representative Roger Wright described as a "recipe for disaster".
AdvertisementJust over a million new Iraqis were born over the last 12 months amid the civil conflict that has ravaged the country's infrastructure and many of the 40,000 babies born to displaced families are living in squalid refugee camps.
With summer temperatures often hitting a blistering 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) and clean water in short supply, women mixing up powdered milk risk giving their malnourished babies diarrhoea.
"Dehydration resulting from diarrhoea caused by contaminated water and poor sanitation is already Iraqs biggest killer of young children," Wright said, in a statement released by his office in Amman, Jordan.
"In an unhygienic environment worsened by displacement and violence, exclusive breastfeeding is the best protection that can be given to Iraqi babies," he said.
UNICEF's call was endorsed by the head of the Iraqi health ministry's breast feeding programme, who called for infants to be fed only their mothers' milk for the first six months of their life.