A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) says 78 million babies, an equivalent of three in five, can get better survival chances and protection against diseases when breastfed within the first hour of life.
Most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria. Improving breastfeeding can help Nigeria reach its full human and economic potentials by preventing 10 million cases of childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia, saving 103,742 children each year and reducing the cost to the health care by $22 million a year, the UNICEF report notes.
The report notes that new-borns that 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 stimulates the mother’s production of breast milk, including colostrums, also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine,’ which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.
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“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 the report.
Henrietta H. Fore, executive director, UNICEF, said, “Millions of new-borns 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%) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32%), the report says.
However, Thompson Kobata, the public health nutritionist at the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria, said adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood was fundamental to child’s survival, growth and development to full potential.
Kobata said, “Inadequate nutritional practices beginning with poor universal breastfeeding practices results in 33 percent of deaths of the new-born due to initiation of breastfeeding within two to 23 hours of birth. In Nigeria, malnutrition contributes more than 50 percent of death and occurs in the first years of life.
“Breast milk substitute pose the risk of not having breast milk’s protective qualities through the high risk of contamination that can lead to life-threatening infections in young infants.”
The report urges governments, donors and other decision-makers to adopt strong legal measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breast milk substitutes.