Report says 78 million babies not breastfed in first hour of life

By Julie Griffiths on 31 July 2018 Infant Feeding Newborn Report

A new report by Unicef and the WHO estimates that three in five newborns are not breastfed within the first hour of being born.

This is putting the babies at higher risk of death and disease and makes it less likely that breastfeeding will continue, according to the report.

Most of the babies are said to be from low- and middle-income countries and the reasons they are missing out on breastfeeding are often for reasons that can be changed, according to Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore. 

She said: ‘Mothers simply don’t receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities.’

The report Capture the moment reveals that breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65%) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32%). 

It adds that nearly nine in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour. But by contrast, only two in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad and Montenegro do so.

Other studies cited in the report show that newborns who began breastfeeding between two and 23 hours after birth had a 33% greater risk of dying compared with those who began breastfeeding within one hour of birth. 

Among newborns who started breastfeeding a day or more after birth, the risk was more than twice as high.

The report, released today (31 July), analyses data from 76 countries and finds the reasons newborns are going so long after birth without breastfeeding include the rise in elective caesareans, feeding newborns food or drinks, including formula, and gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns.

RCM professional policy advisor Clare Livingstone said that the evidence on the benefits of breastfeeding in the report is incredibly strong and we should all be doing as much as possible to support women to breastfeed. 

‘It is without a doubt the best way to give a baby the healthiest possible start in life, and as this report shows, starting it as soon as possible is incredibly important and can even be lifesaving,’ Claire said.
‘We also recognise there are sometimes legitimate reasons making it impossible to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, as when a mother or baby requires medical intervention and these mothers may need more support.
‘This is a timely report that should be read and taken notice of by global leaders, politicians and policy makers if they are serious about the health and wellbeing of their population,’ she added.

Read the Capture the moment report here.

The RCM’s position statement on infant feeding can be accessed here.