AN ESTIMATED 78 million babies – or three in five – are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease, and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding.
A new report made by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) says that most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries.
The report noted that newborns who breastfeed in the first hour of life are significantly more likely to survive.
Even a delay of a few hours after birth could pose life-threatening consequences.
Breastfeeding within an hour after birth is critical for saving newborn lives.
Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulates the mother’s production of breastmilk, including colostrum, also called the baby’s “first vaccine,” which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.
The WHO says that when it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything, where in many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death.
Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 percent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32 percent), the report says.
“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“We must urgently scale up support to mothers – be it from family members, health care workers, employers and governments, so they can give their children the start they deserve.”
Earlier studies, cited in the report, show that newborns who began breastfeeding between two and 23 hours after birth had a 33 percent greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
Among newborns that started breastfeeding a day or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high.
There are also gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns, which include the presence of a skilled birth attendant does not seem to affect rates of early breastfeeding, according to the report.
Across 58 countries between 2005 and 2017, deliveries at the different health institutions grew by about 18 percentage points, while early initiation rates increased by 6 percentage points.
In many cases, babies are separated from their respective mothers immediately after birth and guidance from health workers is limited.
The report now urges governments, donors, and other decision-makers to adopt strong legal measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes.
The WHO and UNICEF-led Global Breastfeeding Collective also released the 2018 Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which tracks progress for breastfeeding policies and programmes.
Under the Capture the Moment program, which analyses data from 76 countries, finds that despite the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding, too many newborns are left waiting too long for different reasons.
Under the initiative, they are encouraging the different countries to advance policies and programs that will help all mothers to start breastfeeding during the first hour of their child’s life and to continue as long as they want. ([email protected]/PN)