Breastfeeding within an hour after birth is critical for saving new-born lives

Wednesday, 2018-08-01 17:04:45
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Vietnam has implemented many programmes to raise public awareness on the importance of breastfeeding. (Photo: UNICEF Vietnam)
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NDO – An estimated 78 million babies in the world, or three out of every five, are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at a higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to be breastfed in infancy, according to a new report from UNICEF and the WHO.

According to Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, when it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death. Yet each year, millions of new-borns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons – all too often – are things we can easily change.

The report notes that new-borns who are breastfed 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 colostrum, also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’, which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.

The rate of breastfeeding 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. Nearly 9 in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour. By contrast, only two in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad and Montenegro receive the same treatment.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life, adding that we must urgently scale up support for 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% greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Of those new-borns who started breastfeeding a day or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high.

According to this report, Vietnam is among the countries with largest fall in the prevalence of early initiated breastfeeding between 2005 and 2013. The rate of early initiated breastfeeding in Vietnam decreased from 44% in 2006 to 27% in 2013.

Recognising the worsening trend, since 2014, the Government of Vietnam has taken efforts to improve the situation, including the issuance and implementation of the National Guideline on Early Essential New-born Care and Hospital Quality Standard regarding breastfeeding practice right after birth, with technical support from the WHO and UNICEF. The guidelines emphasise skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and support for the initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth. Training has been provided for health staff and monitoring activities have been carried out throughout the whole country to ensure the effective implementation of the national guideline.

Significant improvements have been seen in reversing the downward trend of early initiated breastfeeding. According to the Second Biennial Progress report of Western Pacific Region on Early Essential New-born Care 2016-2017, 73% of babies received breastfeeding within one hour of birth in Vietnam. The initial achievement has been recognised by WHO and UNICEF at the Regional Meeting on Accelerating Progress in Early Essential New-born Care organised in August 2017.