Promoting initiation of breastfeeding in the first hour after birth can help saving children’s lives
Maputo, 1 August 2007- From 1 to 7 August over 120 countries around the world dedicate the week to call attention to the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to child survival and development. Early initiation of breastfeeding is the theme of this year’s celebrations. In Mozambique, UNICEF joins the Ministry of Health and several other partners in this event, and associates with the awareness initiatives being organized across the country.
Breastfeeding every baby immediately after birth could prevent a significant number of neonatal deaths in developing countries. A recent study found that breast-feeding in the first hour after birth can prevent 22 per cent newborn deaths. More than one third of all child deaths occur during the first fragile month of life. Early breastfeeding can reduce that toll and is an important step towards the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months is the single most effective preventative measure for child survival – it can reduce child mortality by 13 per cent. For Mozambique, this could mean avoiding the deaths of around 15,000 children under five. While the majority of children in Mozambique are breastfed, only one in three are breastfed exclusively during the first six months of life. The rate of abandoning exclusive breastfeeding is very high. By three months of age, only 38 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed.
According to the Demographic and Health Survey 2003, around 65 per cent of newborns were breastfed within the first hour after birth, which is encouraging but not sufficient to ensure the best start in life for all children in Mozambique. In Maputo City, only 25 per cent of newborns were breastfed within the first hour after birth, compared to 86 per cent in Niassa.
Breastfeeding babies within the first hour after birth stimulates the production of breastmilk. The first milk, also called colostrum, is extremely nutritious and helps prevent diseases. Early skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby helps to keep the baby warm, which also helps to increase survival. Early breastfeeding also helps the mother recover quicker after the delivery.
To ensure that babies get the best start in life, mothers and babies need:
Breast milk provides a complete source of nutrition during the first six months of life. Exclusive breastfeeding constitutes a baby’s first immunization against infectious and non-infectious disease as it provides the newborn with proteins as well as essential growth and nutrition factors. Exclusive breastfeeding significantly decreases the risk of diarrhea and respiratory infections, helps increase the child’s cognitive function and enhances the natural bonding with the mother.
It is known that HIV can be transmitted via breastfeeding. However, only women who are tested HIV positive and who can provide alternative feeding to their infants in a way that is acceptable, feasible, sustainable and safe, are recommended to use alternative feeding. All other mothers are recommended to give exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Combining breastfeeding with other foods or liquids – mixed feeding – increases the risk of HIV transmission. After six months, they are recommended to stop breastfeeding and switch to alternative foods and complementary foods.
The Ministry of Health is committed to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, as is demonstrated by the ongoing training of health workers in all provinces on infant and young child feeding as part of the Basic Nutrition Package, the adoption of the Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 2005 and the proposed implementation of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative starting in 2008.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in these initiatives, and calls for a boost in the support provided for new mothers at the community level. UNICEF calls for every community in Mozambique, supported by the health system and local NGOs, to create a mother support group with model mothers who support new mothers to breastfeed effectively.