Save the Children released a brand-new breastfeeding report, Superfood for Babies, that says 830,000 babies’ lives can be saved worldwide if they are breastfed within the critical first hour after birth. In the first hour after birth babies benefit from drinking colostrum, the most effective and potent natural immune system boosting substance on the planet. Babies who are breastfed within the very first hour after birth are three times more likely to survive than if they are breastfed a day after birth.
Breastfeeding is critical to the survival of children in the world’s most income poor countries. More importantly, immediate breastfeeding is unquestioningly crucial to a baby’s survival.
While advocating for mothers to breastfeed within the first hour after delivering their babies sounds easy enough, breastfeeding rates have stagnated and only 40% of mothers breastfeed globally. Save the Children has documented four barriers that hinder mothers’ ability to breastfeed exclusively at least for the first six months of life.
Four Major Barriers to Immediate Breastfeeding
1. Cultural and community pressure – Even though breastfeeding is one of the most natural gifts a mother can give her child cultural customs prevent some mothers from immediate and sustained breastfeeding. For example, in India some believe the first milk, colostrum, should be expressed out of a mother’s breast before breastfeeding. That said, some customs are detrimental to the health of babies and their survival.
2. Global health worker shortage – Across the developing world, there is a major shortage of frontline health workers that must be addressed. When health workers help deliver a baby, a mother is two times more likely to breastfeed during the first hour after delivery than when giving birth without a skilled birth attendant.
3. Lack of maternity legislation – Women in most low-income countries do not benefit from protections and legislation to help them breastfeed. Out of the 36 low-income countries that Save the Children looked at, Vietnam was the only country that provided adequate maternity leave (6 weeks).
4. Aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes – The global baby food market is currently worth $36 billion meaning that mothers are often aggressively marketed to to buy their products, especially breast-milk substitutes. In Save the Children’s China survey – 40% of mothers interviewed had been contacted directly by baby food company representatives. Additionally, in Pakistan, 1/3 of health professionals said they’d been visiting by a representative of breast-milk substitute companies and 1/10 of health professionals said their health facility had received free samples of formula, nipple or bottles, according to the report.
Nestlé and Danone own the lion share of the breast-milk substitute market. The poster below was snapped in a maternity ward in an Ethiopian hospital. What is particularly bad about this advertisement is it was in the NICU.
In Superfood for Babies Save the Children also found that women who are uneducated are 19% more likely to not initiate breastfeeding and 13% less likely to sustain breastfeeding with their babies. Those who are most uneducated tend to rely on traditional customs and those who have more education tend to be a part of the workforce and have increased opportunity to see formula marketing and also tend to have low breastfeeding numbers.
Brazil – An Example in Reducing Child Mortality through Increasing Breastfeeding
Brazil has cut infant mortality by 50% over the past twenty years through an emphasis on breastfeeding. Every maternity hospital in Brazil has a human milk bank. Isla Fisher traveled to Brazil with Save the Children to document the amazing progress of the nation.
Call to Action
Save the Children is urging everyone who believes in increased child health to sign a petition urging new Secretary of State John Kerry to fight for newborn nutrition and the renewal of the 1,000 Days Call to Action that is set to expire in a few, short months. Visit savethechildren.org/superfood to make your voice heard.
- ‘The power of the first hour’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Report: Superfood for Babies (voanews.com)
- An Optimistic View of Breastfeeding in Ethiopia (mombloggersforsocialgood.com)
Photos: Mom Bloggers for Social Good/ Jennifer James