Three in five babies are not breastfed within an hour of being born, risking sickness and even death, a new report has warned.
A joint study released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF has stressed that delays in breastfeeding threaten the health of 78 million newborns worldwide, reported the Guardian.
“When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF executive director, in a statement from WHO. “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.”
Delays in breastfeeding have been linked to an increased risk of infant death, earlier studies have noted, according to the Guardian report. Those first breastfed between two and 23 hours after birth face a 30% greater risk of death during the first 28 days of life than those breastfed within the first hour after birth.
But after reviewing UNICEF data from 76 countries — not including figures for North America, Australia, New Zealand, or western Europe — the researchers found about 78 million babies were not breastfed within the first hour after birth in 2017.
Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in East and Southern Africa (65%), stated the report. Nearly 9 in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka, and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour.
But rates in East Asia and the Pacific were lowest at 32%, and, by contrast, only 2 in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad, and Montenegro are fed during that first-hour window.
The report outlines a number of recommendations to increase early initiation of breastfeeding, noted the Guardian, including encouraging community networks to promote breastfeeding, improving access to skilled lactation consultants, and limiting the marketing of breast milk substitutes, such as formula.