800,000 babies’ lives ‘would be saved every year’ if they were breastfed early

More than half of newborn babies are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at heightened risk of disease and death, Unicef is warning. An estimated 77 million of the 130 million or so babies born around the world each year are denied the vital nutrients from their mother’s milk within the first hour of their life. The problem is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa, the charity fears. “Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn’s chances of survival,” said France Bégin, Unicef senior nutrition adviser. “If all babies are fed nothing but breastmilk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year.”

Breast milk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease

France Bégin, UNICEF senior nutrition adviser

Delaying breastfeeding by two to 23 hours after birth increases the risk of a baby dying in its first month by 40% and delaying by 24 hours or more increases the risk by 80%, Unicef says. It has been campaigning to promote early breastfeeding, pointing to studies that show newborns account for nearly half of all deaths of under-fives. But efforts to promote early breastfeeding have been slow, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where mortality rates for children are high. Early breastfeeding rates nudged up to 60% in 2015 from 51% in 2000 in East and Southern Africa and were unchanged in West and Central Africa, it said.