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

2016-07-29

TORONTO/NEW YORK, July 29, 2016 – Some 77 million newborns – or one in two – 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 on the eve of World Breastfeeding Week.

“Breastmilk is like a wonder drug to newborn babies, particularly in developing countries where one million babies take their first and last breath on the day they are born,” said Meg French, UNICEF Canada’s Chief Program Officer. “It helps protect them from so many preventable diseases, including one of the leading child killers, diarrhea. On top of that, it’s natural and it’s free, which makes it a great option for everyone, including the most disadvantaged.”

Breastfeeding could save 800,000 lives every year

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 in East and Southern Africa increased by just 10 percentage points since 2000 but have remained unchanged in West and Central Africa.

Even in South Asia, where rates of early breastfeeding initiation tripled in 15 years – from 16 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2015 – the increase is far from enough: 21 million newborns still wait too long before they are breastfed.

“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.”

The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by two-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 baby’s first vaccine

“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. In many countries, it is customary to feed a baby infant formula, cow’s milk or sugar water in the first three days of life. Almost half of all newborns are fed these liquids. When babies are given less nutritious alternatives to breastmilk, they breastfeed less often, making it harder for mothers to start and continue breastfeeding.

14 times more likely to die

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.

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.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.

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