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Breast-feeding and birth spacing save lives.



Breast feeding provides an infant all its nutritional needs and therefore is the best and most cost effective food for infants. In addition, antibodies in the breast milk protects the infant from gastrointestinal illnesses and some respiratory infections. Full breast feeding is also good for the mother because prolonged lactational amenorrhea will preserve hemoglobin stores and, for the 1st 6 months, she is unable to conceive. Therefore breast feeding assists in the spacing of births, thereby reducing maternal and infant mortality. Infants born 2 years after a preceding sibling are twice as likely to die as those born after an interval of 2 years. This risk changes little between countries, in spite of variabilities in fertility, infant mortality, and level of socioeconomic development. In Africa and Asia where women are likely to breast feed their children, breast feeding prevents an average of 4 births/woman. On the other hand, modern contraception has replaced breast feeding in Central and South America as the major way of regulating fertility. Even though the health benefits of breast feeding are known, most nations with family planning policies or targets for the reduction of infant mortality have no developed national policies regarding breast feeding. Regardless of the overall socioeconomic level of a nation, breast feeding should always be uppermost when formulating public health policies and goals. In Africa and Asia, public policies should concentrate on maintaining or increasing traditional breast feeding practices. In the Americas, however, the focus should be on the health benefits of breast feeding for the infants. The most effective and "safe for the baby" oral contraceptive for lactating women is the mini pill. IUDs have no effect on lactation or infant health.

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