Malnutrition is thought to account for approximately 2 million child deaths each year; approximately one-third of all child deaths worldwide. Save the Children, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to children’s rights, health and safety worldwide, said in a recent report that nearly half of those lives could be saved if all mothers breastfed within the first hour of birth.
Known as the “power hour,” breastfeeding within that first hour after birth is a critical because colostrum, a highly concentrated dose of antibodies, is produced and passed from mom to baby at this time. This “jump-starts” baby’s immune system before they’ve had much of a chance to be exposed to the outside world. And the earlier this happens, the better the baby’s chances of survival.
Research has also indicated that mothers who breastfeed during that first hour are more likely to continue breastfeeding in the months and years to come. This is important for a number of reasons – everything from prevention of illness and disease to malnutrition and death.
Titled “Superfood for Babies,” the Save the Children report shared some of the following facts about breastfeeding and child health:
- Experts say that nearly one-fifth of all newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding started within the first hour after birth.
- Approximately 16% of all newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding occurred within the first 24 hours after birth.
- If breastfed within the first hour after birth, a newborn is three times more likely to survive than one that is not breastfed until the second day of life.
- Colostrum is said to be the most powerful natural immune system booster known to science.
- A baby not breastfed is 15 times more likely to die of pneumonia than one that is.
- A baby not breastfed is 14 times more likely to die than one that is breastfed, and an infant who is partially breastfed is four times more likely to die than one that is exclusively breastfed.
- Babies that were breastfed, but not exclusively breastfed, accounted to an estimated 1.4 million deaths worldwide in 2008.
“Last year, we saw a lot of handwringing in this country over how long is too long for moms to breastfeed,” Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children said. “But the real scandal is that many moms around the world don’t get the support they need to start breastfeeding early – or even at all. It’s a choice all moms should have, and in the developing world, it can literally be a matter of life and death for their babies.”
So how do we get more mothers breastfeeding? According to recent reports, there are more women breastfeeding now then there were in the past several years. However, the global rates still remain lower than experts would like. Save the Children shared some of the most common barriers, all of which apply on a global level.
- In one-third of all births, there are no skilled health workers to support the mother
- Lack of workplace policies to promote breastfeeding or pumping
- Lack of maternity leave
- Direct marketing of formula to mothers and health workers; this is actually a violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The most common theme here, Save the Children says, is that mothers lack support and, in some cases, information.
“Women everywhere should have all the support and information they need to make the best choices for themselves and for the health and survival of their children,” Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children told Medical News Today. “At the same time, all of us can do something to help save hundreds of thousands of babies from needless death. It’s a matter of raising our voices for these children.”
And for American women, there are a whole slew of unique but unnecessary barriers. Though they are supposed to be at the forefront of economic and social development, only 6.7% of all births occur in Baby Friendly hospitals (hospitals that meet WHO guidelines for promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding). And the United States has the shortest maternity leave of all industrialized nations. In addition, American women are often subject to a lack of workplace policies that make it possible to continue breastfeeding once they return to work. Add that to the family and social pressures that many American women face, and it’s not difficult to see why America has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates among industrialized countries.
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