Breastfeeding within first hour of birth critical to newborns survival: WHO

Those who began breast feeding between 2 and 23 hours after birth had a 33% greater risk of neonatal death compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth.

Sushmi Dey | TNN
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NEW DELHI: Initiating breastfeeding within first hour of birth is crucial to avert neonatal deaths as well as to ensure proper growth and development of a child. Those who began breast feeding between 2 and 23 hours after birth had a 33% greater risk of neonatal death compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Whereas, among newborns who started breastfeeding 24 hours or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high, a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF says.

“When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death,” Unicef executive director Henrietta H Fore said.

While India has shown improvement by nearly doubling early initiation within a decade, from 23.4% in 2005 to 41.5% in 2015, it still ranks 56th in the tally of 76 countries analysed for breastfeeding access by the two UN agencies.

Even African countries like Rwanda and Malawi have performed better with over 80% newborns initiated into breastfeeding within one hour of their birth. Sri Lanka was the top performer with 90.3% newborns put to the breast within first hour of birth.

Globally, an estimated 78 million babies – or three in five – are not breastfed within the first hour of life in 2017, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in eastern and southern Africa (65%) and lowest in east Asia and the Pacific (32%), the report said. Nearly nine in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour.

According to the report – ‘Çapture The Moment’, 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.

The UN agencies recommend children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. From the age of six months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond.

“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.” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The report highlights that early initiation rates are significantly lower among newborns delivered by C-Section, whereas the increase in institutional deliveries has not always translated into improvements in the rate of early initiation of breastfeeding. Deliveries at health institutions grew by 18 percentage points, while early initiation rates increased by 6 percentage points, show data from 58 countries between 2005 and 2017.

Improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of more than 8,00,000 children under 5 every year, the vast majority of whom are under six months of age.

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