World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that the pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.
In a joint statement released on Monday marking 'World Breastfeeding Week', the two UN sub-organisations pointed out that several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit Covid-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.
"While there has been progress in breastfeeding rates in the last four decades – with a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally – the Coivd-19 pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains", the statement read.
Organised under its theme 'Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility', this year's "World Breast Feeding Week' revisits the commitments made by the UN at the start of this year by prioritising breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.
In the statement, the two organisations highlighted the importance of breastfeeding within the first hour of the baby's birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond for a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
The joint statement maintained that breastfeeding acts as a baby's first vaccine which protects them against many common childhood illnesses.
At the start of the year, the government, donors, civil society and private sectors had united to launch the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, stating that the Year of Action is a historic opportunity to transform the way the world tackles the global commitment to eliminate child malnutrition.
According to the two organizations, breastfeeding is central to realising this commitment.
Releasing the joint statement, the UN agencies highlighted the importance of breastfeeding and the impacts of Covid-19 in accelerating the risk of malnutrition among children.
In this regard, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, "Now is not the time to lower our ambitions. Now is the time to aim high. We are committed to making the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action a success by ensuring that every child's right to nutritious, safe and affordable food and adequate nutrition is realized from the beginning of life, starting with breastfeeding."