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The Power of the First Hour – Breastfeeding Saves Lives

4 March 2013

Each hour 95 babies – 830,000 each year – could be saved if a mother breast feeds in the first hour of life reports Save the Children.

Breast milk is a superfood. In the first hours and days of her baby’s life the mother produces milk called colostrum, the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.

Breastfeeding has a strong impact on both reducing malnutrition and protecting children in their first 28 days and beyond – it is the closest thing there is to a ‘silver bullet’ to save these children’s lives.

A child who is not breastfed is 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhoea.

Global rates of breastfeeding have remained below 40% for the past 20 years as breastfeeding has slipped down the list of political priorities.

Not all mothers are allowed to make their own decision about whether they will breastfeed. Some mothers have the decision made for them by their husband or their mother in law. Many women face extreme pressures from their family or their community to feed their infants in ways that are traditional in their society, but which can be harmful. In some cultures women feed their babies other foods or liquids before breastfeeding.

One third of all babies are born without a skilled birth attendant present. Health workers are vital for supporting mother’s with breastfeeding in the first hour of life. Many women are missing out on antenatal checks, support during and immediately after birth, and post-natal visits that would be a source of advice and information about good practices in breastfeeding.

To promote exclusive breastfeeding, women must be provided with sufficient paid maternity leave – in line with the international minimum of 14 weeks and working towards 18 weeks’ leave with at least two-thirds pay – but the majority of poor countries do not meet this standard. Once a mother returns to work, there must be policies in place that require employers to provide paid breaks and private places where women can breastfeed or express milk so that they are able to continue breastfeeding.

There continue to be too many examples of companies violating the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and adopting various tactics to attract new mothers to use their products in order to increase their market.

Our solutions to saving babies in their first hour of life:

  • Warmth: Babies can lose heat rapidly, especially when they’re born prematurely. We provide blankets to keep them warm and help them survive.
  • A mother’s milk: A mother’s milk gives newborns life-saving nutrients and antibodies. We train health workers to provide the crucial support they need to breastfeed as soon as possible.
  • Medical attention: 5-10% of all newborns need emergency resuscitation at birth. We give health workers the training they need to enable a baby to breathe – and save their lives.
  • Medicine: A newborn can be incredibly vulnerable to infections. We provide antibiotics to help make a sick baby healthy.
  • Sterile medical equipment: Babies are at risk from fatal tetanus or sepsis if the cord is not cut with a clean instrument. We provide safe birth kits.

Support the ongoing work of Save the Children with a monthly donation from pay.

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