MINISTER of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson says the Infant and Young Child Feeding policy has been drafted and is now before Cabinet for approval.
"It is intended to guide the systems that need to be in place to improve the nutritional development of children, and includes guidelines to breastfeeding in various scenarios," the minister said.
He argued that the development of the policy is a mark of the government's commitment to improving the health of the nation, while fulfilling its international obligations related to health and sustainable development and its recognition that every child has the potential for greatness.
In his message for the national launch of Breastfeeding Week, held in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland, on Monday, the minister said: "There is no better gift that we can give newborns than the gift of breastfeeding, which assists with the emotional development and overall health (of that child)."
The speech was delivered by Regional Technical Director in the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) Dr Simone Spence.
According to Ferguson, the health of the nation's children is a priority of the Government, as it is an important indicator for the country's development.
The minister is calling on the nation to take a renewed vow to uphold the rights of the children, which include their right to health and health services under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for which Jamaica is a signatory. He says the Convention also states that breastfeeding is a child's right.
He pointed out that as part of this year's observance and for the rest of the year, "we intend to garner more peer support for mothers, especially first-time mothers who would not have had any experience caring for a baby. We also plan to encourage the involvement of the family and the community as part of the support system for mothers."
Meanwhile, guest speaker at the launch, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Technology (UTech), Dr Fitzroy Henry, outlined the benefits of breastfeeding, and noted that there are many detrimental effects if mothers do not breastfeed.
He said that while most mothers breastfeed at birth, the problem of not continuing usually begins after about six weeks.
Dr Henry called for more research on the reasons why mothers are breastfeeding less, adding that there needs to be more public education and effective outreach programmes on the benefits of breastfeeding.
"This is the issue we need to get at, why breastfeeding is falling off. We need to keep that breastfeeding rate as high as possible for as long as possible," he emphasised.
Breastfeeding Week, which began on Sunday and ends on Saturday, is being observed under the theme 'Breastfeeding Support: Working Closely with Mothers'.