77 million newborns globally not breastfed within first hour of life - UNICEF

Delayed breastfeeding increases risk of newborn deaths by up to 80 per cent

29 July 2016

NEW YORK/Tirana, 29 July 2016 – Some 77 million new-borns world wide – or 1 in 2 – are not put to the breast within an hour of birth, depriving them of the essential nutrients, antibodies and skin-to-skin contact with their mother that protect them from disease and death, UNICEF said.

“Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn’s chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding,” 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.”

Progress in getting more new-borns breastfed within the first hour of life has been slow over the past 15 years, UNICEF data show.  The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth increases the risk of dying in the first 28 days of life by 40 per cent. Delaying it by 24 hours or more increases that risk to 80 per cent.

“Breastmilk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease,” said France Bégin. “With newborns accounting for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.”

UNICEF analyses show that women are not getting the help they need to start breastfeeding immediately after birth even when a doctor, nurse of midwife is assisting their delivery.   Feeding babies other liquids or foods is another reason early breastfeeding is delayed. When babies are given less nutritious alternatives to breastmilk, they breastfeed less often, making it harder for mothers to start and continue breastfeeding.

Globally, only 43 per cent of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed. Babies who are not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those who are fed only breastmilk.

In Albania, there have been notable achievements resulting in  the increase of the exclusive breastfeeding rates from 11% in 1998 to 39% in 2009, but the proportion of new-borns that start breastfeeding within first hour of life remains at 43% (Source: DHS 2009).

Considering the persistence of the double burden of malnutrition in Albania with a combination of under and overweight among children, further improvement of the infant and young child feeding practices is an imperative.

UNICEF congratulates the Albanian Ministry of Health (MOH) for its commitment to establish a national facility based routine data collection system for breastfeeding and growth monitoring of children under 5 years old.

In particular, the approval of the new Law No. 53/2016 for the Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding (based on the existing law No. 8528/1999), approved by the Albanian Parliament in May this year, is an important achievement that will lead to a higher level of protection of breastfeeding and the enforcement of labelling requirements as well as administrative measures against law violations.

UNICEF also commends the role of the State Health Inspectorate in regular monitoring of the law enforcement conducted in 2015 and 2016, undertaking of administrative measures to address violations, and the strong commitment to continue to work on capacity development of the health inspectors for monitoring of the enforcement of the Law for Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding.

In Albania, UNICEF has been a long-standing partner of the Ministry of Health in the area of support, protection and promotion of Breastfeeding, through supporting the expansion of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), and by promoting community based models. Continued joint efforts of UNICEF, MOH and the Institute of Public Health will contribute to improvements of the health information system with focus on child nutrition indicators. The partnership between Ministry of Health, State Health Inspectorate, Albanian International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and UNICEF will continue to support capacity development efforts for strengthened monitoring and enforcement of the Albanian Law for Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding.  We will also continue to raise the awareness of mothers in selecting breastfeeding as the right choice for feeding their babies.


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Note to editors

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from 1-7th August in over 170 countries to promote breastfeeding and improve infant nutrition around the world.

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