‘Babies not breastfed in the first hour of life at risk of death, disease’

Kathmandu, August 1

An estimated 55 babies out of 100, in Nepal, are breastfed within the first hour of their life.

However, the remaining number of babies are not being breastfed within the first hour, putting them at a higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding, says UNICEF and WHO in a new report.

The estimation of babies worldwide, not being breastfed within the first hour, is 78 million — or three in five — and most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries.

The report notes that newborns, who are breastfed within 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 stimulate the mother’s production of breast milk, including colostrum, also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’, which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.

“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 Henrietta H Fore, UNICEF executive director, in a press release issued today on the occasion of the World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August). “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,” she added.

Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 per cent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32 per cent), the report says. Nearly nine 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 do so.

According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016, the initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life is highest in Province 7 (70.7 per cent) and lowest in Province 2 (45.3 per cent). Nearly half of the babies born in Province 2 receive non-breast milk feedings during the first three days of their life, such as honey, water and milk. This is six times more than in Province 7.

“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general. “We must urgently scale up support to mothers – be it from family members, healthcare workers, employers and governments, so they can give their children the start they deserve.” Studies show that newborns who began breastfeeding between two and 23 hours after birth had a 33 per cent greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth.