The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a press release from their senior nutrition advisor France Begin that urges new mothers to breastfeed their infant within the first hour after giving birth, saying that this “early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.”
Breastmilk is a baby’s first vaccine, providing essential nutrients and antibodies that protect against illness and disease.
The agency says that delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth can increase the risk of dying in the first month of an infant’s life by 40% and delaying 24 hours or more increases the risk by up to 80%. Those delays also limit the mother’s milk supply and reduces the chance the baby can be fed exclusively through breastfeeding.
UNICEF studies have found that in many countries women are routinely not getting the help they may need to initiate breastfeeding. In some countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, women who deliver with help of a skilled attendant are less likely to initiate breastfeeding in that first hour of life as compared to those women who deliver with help from unskilled attendants or relatives.
In some countries, it is customary to delay breastfeeding for several days, during which time the baby is fed formula, cow’s milk, or sugar water. In these places, almost half of all newborns are fed alternate liquid during the first three days of their lives.
When infants are given less nutritious alternatives to breastmilk or are nursed less often, it is more difficult for mothers to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Babies not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than babies fed entirely on breastmilk.
Globally, only 43% of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed.
Any amount of breastmilk will help lower an infant’s risk of death and reduces the risk of infections.
UNICEF released the new statistics ahead of World Breastfeeding Week which is celebrated annually August 1-7 in more than 170 countries. The week is intended to be a time when health organizations promote the importance of breastfeeding and provide infant nutrition information.