Unicef has noted with concern the declining numbers of infants in the Middle East and North Africa who are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives.
"Several high-income countries in the Middle East such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the UAE and Saudi Arabia maintain patterns similar to industrialised European countries where exclusive breastfeeding is below 35 percent," Unicef said in a statement released as part of ongoing World Breastfeeding Week.
"In fact, less than half of the mothers in the region exclusively breastfeed their infants for as long as three months," the UN body said.
On the other hand, over 50 percent of infants in countries like Syria and Egypt are breastfed, it added.
"Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding has to become a high priority in all sectors of society. Compared to breastfed babies, formula-fed babies get sick more often and are more likely to die in infancy or childhood," said Mahendra Sheth, Unicef regional health and nutrition adviser for the Middle East and North Africa.
The statement points out that even the duration of breastfeeding is gradually declining in most countries, especially in urban areas. As a result, inappropriate complementary feeding and weaning practices are major causes of malnutrition, which is highest in the six months to two years age group.
Unicef has pointed out that the poor nutrition and health status of women and female children in lowest-income countries like Djibouti, Yemen, Sudan - and now Iraq - creates a vicious cycle that affects the nutritional status of newborns at a very early stage.
"Delivering proper nutrition messages and educating the general public, particularly child care providers, on the absolute benefits of breastfeeding are key interventions we have yet to apply comprehensively in the region," said Sheth.
Medindia on Breast-feeding:
Breast-feeding is perfectly suited to nourish infants and protect them from illness. The primary benefit of breast milk is nutritional. Doctors' advice the mothers of newborn babies to only exclusively breast-feed their babies till they are of six-month age.
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