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

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, 29 July 2016 – Globally, 77 million newborns – 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.”

Globally, progress in getting more newborns breastfed within the first hour of life has been slow over the past 15 years, UNICEF data show. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where under five mortality rates are the highest worldwide, early breastfeeding rates increased by just 10 percentage points since 2000 in East and Southern Africa but have remained unchanged in West and Central Africa.

In Tanzania, only 1 out 2 children aged 0-23 months benefit from early initiation of breastfeeding, according to the 2014 Tanzania National Nutrition Survey (TNNS 2014). In some regions, the level is even lower at less than 25 per cent, including in Tabora, Geita, Shinyanga, Rukwa and Katavi regions in the Mainland.

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 Representative in Tanzania, Maniza Zaman, said, “For many different reasons, including cultural norms and lack of knowledge, women in Tanzania are not receiving the support they need to start breastfeeding immediately after the baby is born. Giving babies other liquids or foods may be another reason early breastfeeding is delayed. We have to intensify our efforts so that many more Tanzanian children, and their mothers, benefit from optimal breastfeeding practices.”

Moreover, around the world 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 Tanzania, less than 41 per cent of children under six months old were exclusively breastfed in 2014. In some areas, like Ruvuma and Tanga in mainland Tanzania, the figure is as low as 25 per cent. In Zanzibar, 20 per cent of children were exclusively breastfed, with Pemba, as low as 10 per cent (NNS, 2014).

But any amount of breastmilk reduces a child’s risk of death. Babies who received no breastmilk at all are seven times more likely to die from infections than those who received at least some breastmilk in their first six months of life.

Tanzania has an opportunity to further highlight the need for more efforts in good breastfeeding practices. From 1-7, World Breastfeeding Week, will be celebrated in mainland Tanzania, along with the national Farmers’ Day known as “Nane Nane”. Activities will include televised roundtable discussions as well as health and nutrition talks with mothers in in health facilities and in communities. In Zanzibar, the theme will be “breastfeeding, a key to sustainable development”. The focus will be on addressing social norms that contribute to poor breastfeeding practices.

Media contacts

Usia Ledama
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Tanzania
Tel: +255 762 871830


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