This week is World Breastfeeding Week – a celebration, as well as an opportunity to continue to push forward the protecting, promoting and supporting of breastfeeding.
The health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for mother and baby are well documented, not to mention the convenience and cost advantages. Early initiation of breastfeeding (defined as the provision of breast milk to a baby within one hour of birth) plays an important role in the establishment of breastfeeding, with far reaching additional consequences. A recent study completed by Alive and Thrive shows the following benefits to early breastfeeding:
- In low-resource, high mortality settings where infection causes a large proportion of newborn deaths, early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding can substantially reduce child mortality.
- Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour can help prevent neonatal deaths caused by sepsis, pneumonia, and diarrhea and may also prevent hypothermia-related deaths, especially in preterm and low birthweight infants.
- Early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding serves as the starting point for a continuum of care for mother and newborn that can have long-lasting effects on health and development.
It is estimated that 1 million newborn lives could be saved every year by early breastfeeding initiation but that only 43% of newborns globally receive breast milk within an hour of birth. The reasons for this vary depending on country and culture. Some traditional cultural practices do not promote babies receiving colostrum (the nutrient and calorie rich milk produced by the mother in the first few days after birth); some hospitals do not promote practices which encourage early breastfeeding (such as skin-to-skin contact); and some mothers simply do not receive the support they need to help the baby to latch to the breast. It is imperative that women and their families receive information and education during pregnancy, and high quality postnatal support, to enable early breastfeeding initiation.
This year, as part of World Breastfeeding Week, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have partnered with 17 organizations to produce a brochure highlighting eight measures to ‘scale up early initiation and optimal breastfeeding.’ The information focuses on the following topics:
- The need for breastfeeding-friendly practices in healthcare facilities
- Well trained health care staff who provide skilled support in the immediate postnatal period
- The education of women and their families around infant feeding
- The implementation of the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes
In both my professional and personal experience, early breastfeeding initiation is not only important in providing a newborn with the best possible nutrition – in those early moments after birth, giving a mother an unhurried opportunity to allow her new baby to breastfeed offers her protected time to connect with her baby. This instills the confidence that she will undoubtedly need to go on to successfully breastfeed for the recommended six months and beyond.
Breastfeeding: A winning goal for life!
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