Across the world, an estimated 78 million babies — three in five — are not breastfed within the first hour of being born, which puts them at a higher risk of death and diseases, and makes them less likely to pick up breastfeeding later, UNICEF and WHO have said in a new report. Most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries, says the report released ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week starting on August 1.
According to the report, not breastfeeding children within the first hour of life lowers their chances of meeting physical and mental growth standards, while newborns who are breastfed within an hour of birth are significantly more likely to survive.
The report says India has made some progress within a decade from 2005-15, having doubled breastfeeding initiation in the first hour of birth.
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According to the report, breastfeeding initiation within an hour after birth has almost doubled in India, increasing from 23.1 per cent in 2005 to 41.5 per cent in 2015.
The early initiation rates were however found “significantly lower” among newborns delivered by caesarean section in the country.
“Breastfeeding gives all girls and boys the healthiest start in life. It stimulates brain development, boosts their immune systems and helps protect them from chronic conditions later in life,” said Yasmin Ali Haque, Unicef India Representative.
The National Family Health Survey (2015-16) notes that 54.9 per cent children in India are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and use of water and other fluids is one the main reasons for discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments to boost human capital, stimulate economic growth and give every child the same opportunity to thrive. We need to support all mothers to initiate breastfeeding early, exclusive breastfeed for the first six months and continue to breastfeed for at least the first two years,” says Haque.
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Globally, the report says, delays in breastfeeding have endangered babies.
“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.”
Even a delay of a few hours after birth could pose life-threatening consequences, warns the report, adding: “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.”
The report says those first breastfed between two and 23 hours after birth face a 30 per cent higher risk of death within their first 28 days than those breastfed within the first hour after birth, it said. Babies breastfed for the first time at 24 hours after birth had twice the risk of death than those breastfed within their first hour.
The report is based on United Nations Children’s Fund data from 76 countries, which don’t include North America, Australia, New Zealand or western Europe.
It says the proportion of babies breastfed immediately after birth varied greatly from country to country, and that breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in east and Southern Africa (65 per cent) and lowest in east Asia and the Pacific (32 per cent).
While nearly 9 in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour, only two in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad and Montenegro do so.