Three in five babies not breastfed in the first hour of life

Mihret Breast feeds her 6 month old son Dawit at Kihen Health Post in Kilte Awlaelo Woreda Kihen Health Post implements Health, Nutrition, Hygiene and Sanitation programmes with UNICEF’s support targeted at building the capacity of the health system. Japan media members led by the Japan Center for International Exchange visit UNICEF programmes in Tigray Ethiopia. Due to the effect of El Nino driven shortage of rainfall, Tigray Region has been affected by severe shortage of drinking water for both people and livestock. The effect was manifested through declining of groundwater levels, drying of water wells and increased malfunctioning of water supply schemes. The main water supply sources for domestic consumption is groundwater source, which is subject to fluctuation of rainfall. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Sewunet Japan media members led by the Japan Centre for International Exchange visit UNICEF programmes in Tigray Ethiopia. Due to the effect of El Nino driven shortage of rainfall, Tigray Region has been affected by severe shortage of drinking water for both people and livestock. The effect was manifested through declining of groundwater levels, drying of water wells and increased malfunctioning of water supply schemes. The main water supply sources for domestic consumption is groundwater source, which is subject to fluctuation of rainfall. Kilte Awlalo Woreda is one of the 20 woredas, which is affected by the current El Niño induced drought phenomenon.

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, say UNICEF and WHO in a new report. Most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries.

The report notes 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. Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulate the mother’s production of breastmilk, including colostrum, also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’, which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.

“When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death,” says Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Yet each year, millions of newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons – all too often – are things we can change. Mothers simply don’t receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities.”

Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 per cent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32per cent), the report says. Nearly nine in 10 babies born in BurundiSri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour. By contrast, only two in 10 babies born in AzerbaijanChad and Montenegro do so.*

“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.”

Capture the Moment, which analyzes data from 76 countriesfinds that despite the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding, too many newborns are left waiting too long for different reasons, including:

  • Feeding newborns food or drinks, including formula: Common practices, such as discarding colostrum, an elder feeding the baby honey or health professionals giving the newborn a specific liquid, such as sugar water or infant formula, delay a newborn’s first critical contact with his or her mother.
  • The rise in elective C-sections: In Egypt, caesarean section rates more than doubled between 2005 and 2014, increasing from 20 per cent to 52 per cent. During the same period, rates of early initiation of breastfeeding decreased from 40 per cent to 27 per cent. A study across 51 countries notes that early initiation rates are significantly lower among newborns delivered by caesarean section. In Egypt, only 19 per cent of babies born by C-section were breastfed in the first hour after birth, compared to 39 per cent of babies born by natural delivery.
  • Gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns: 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 health institutions grew by 18 percentage points, while early initiation rates increased by six percentage points. In many cases, babies are separated from their mothers immediately after birth and guidance from health workers is limited. In Serbia, the rates increased by 43 percentage points from 2010 to 2014 due to efforts to improve the care mothers received at birth.

Earlier studies, cited in the report, show that newborns who began breastfeeding between two and 23 hours after birth had a 33 per cent greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Among newborns who started breastfeeding a day or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high.

The report urges governments, donors and other decision-makers to adopt strong legal measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes.

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