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Breastfeeding within one hour of birth can reduce infant mortality

NEW YORK, 1 August 2007 – Breastfeeding babies immediately after birth can prevent a significant number of neonatal deaths in developing countries, said UNICEF today at the start of World Breastfeeding Week.

A study from Ghana published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that 16 per cent of neonatal deaths can be prevented by breastfeeding infants from day one,rising to 22 per cent if breastfeeding begins within one hour of birth. Early initiation of breastfeeding is the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week.

“More than one third of child deaths occur during the first fragile month of life,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman. “Early breastfeeding provides critical nutrients, protects infants against deadly diseases and fosters growth and development.”

The issue is particularly relevant in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Around 10 per cent of all babies die before the age of one and most neonatal deaths occur at home. Though the rate of exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months has more than doubled in the region since 1990 – to 30 per cent – this still leaves hundreds of thousands of children vulnerable to disease and death.

UNICEF estimates that exclusive breastfeeding to the age of six months could prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children under the age of five each year.

“It is critical to reach women in their homes and communities,” said Veneman.

UNICEF support for integrated, community-based health care includes the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding and the agency works with partners, governments and communities to support national infant feeding legislation, improve ante- and post-natal care and boost resources for new mothers at the community-level.

 

BACKGROUND

 

World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding Week was first celebrated in 1992 and is now observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners, including the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and the World Health Organization.

Breastfeeding Advocacy package

In support of global efforts to promote breastfeeding, the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre has prepared a package that contains publications, posters and other communications and advocacy materials in several languages. The package is available at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/

The Ghana Study

Source: Pediatrics, “Delayed Breastfeeding Initiation Increases Risk of Neonatal Mortality’, 2006; 177;380-386 (http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/117/3/e380)

Karen M. Edmond, MMSc, FRCPCH, Charles Zandoh, MSc, Maria A. Quigley, Seeba Amenga-Etego, MSc, Seth Owusu-Agyei, PhD and Betty R. Kirkwood, MSc, FMedSci

About UNICEF

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

 

 
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