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Breastfeeding within one hour of birth could reduce infant mortality

© UNICEF/Vanuatu/Giacomo Pirozzi
A Vanuatu mother is breastfeeding her baby at Erakor Bridge a suburb of Port Vila town, the capital.

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

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

“More than one third of all child deaths occur during the first fragile month of life,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman. “Early breastfeeding can reduce that toll and is a step towards the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality.”

The issue is particularly relevant to 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 Myanmar/Giacomo Pirozzi
Hteik Hteik Soe (18 years old) breastfeeds her 8 days old newborn baby in Taung Pet village, about 4 hours walking distance from Kalaw in Southern Shan State. Myanmar.

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 in the developing world each year.

It is critical, according to Veneman, to reach women in their homes and communities. 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.

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. The aim is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development. Continued breastfeeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach to child feeding.

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:

For further information, please contact:
Jessica Malter, UNICEF Media NY, +1 212 326 – 7412,




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