In Nigeria, there are varying beliefs regarding early breastfeeding. While it has been well documented by UNICEF and WHO in a new report that breastfeeding within an hour after birth is critical for saving newborn lives, only 3 out of 10 newborns in Nigeria are put to breast within this critical period.
This means that about 70% of babies are not breastfed within this period in Nigeria, against a global estimate of only 20% of babies not put to breast within the period.
The report notes that newborns who are not breastfed in the first hour of life are at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding. Even a delay of a few hours after birth could pose life-threatening consequences.
Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulate the mother’s production of breast milk, including colostrum which is also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’ and which is extremely rich in nutrients plus antibodies.
“When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death,” says Henrietta H. Fore, the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Executive Director.
“Yet each year, millions of newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons – all too often – are things we can change. Mothers simply don’t receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities.”
“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We must urgently scale up support to mothers – be it from family members, health care workers, employers and governments, so they can give their children the start they deserve.”
Analyzing data from 76 countries, the report reveals some of the reasons why too many newborns are left waiting.
One common practice is to discard colostrum, and instead feed the infant honey, sugar water or infant formula which also delays a newborn’s first critical contact with its mother.
The rise in elective C-sections also has an impact, with a study across 51 countries noting that in this type of delivery, initiation rates among newborns are significantly lower.
READ ALSO: 10 Great Reasons To Breastfeed Your Baby
Capture the Moment, which analyzes data from 76 countries finds that, despite the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding, too many newborns are left waiting too long for different reasons, including:
- Feeding newborns food or drinks, including formula: Common practices, such as discarding colostrum, an elder feeding the baby honey or health professionals giving the newborn a specific liquid, such as sugar water or infant formula, delay a newborn’s first critical contact with his or her mother.
- The rise in elective C-sections: In Egypt, caesarean section rates more than doubled between 2005 and 2014, increasing from 20% to 52%. During the same period, rates of early initiation of breastfeeding decreased from 40% to 27%. A study across 51 countries notes that early initiation rates are significantly lower among newborns delivered by caesarean section. In Egypt, only 19% of babies born by C-section were breastfed in the first hour after birth, compared to 39% of babies born by natural delivery.
- Gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns: The presence of a skilled birth attendant does not seem to affect rates of early breastfeeding, according to the report. Across 58 countries between 2005 and 2017, deliveries at health institutions grew by 18 percentage points, while early initiation rates increased by 6 percentage points. In many cases, babies are separated from their mothers immediately after birth and guidance from health workers is limited. In Serbia, the rates increased by 43 percentage points from 2010 to 2014 due to efforts to improve the care mothers received at birth.
Earlier 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 urges governments and other decision-makers to adopt strong legal measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breast milk substitutes to help address the situation.
Researchers also say giving a baby breast milk within an hour of birth has been shown to reduce levels of cot death, as well as obesity in later life. It also carries health benefits for mothers such as, reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and type 2 diabetes.
With some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, around a fifth of babies in the UK are never given their mother’s milk and are therefore missing out on these benefits. This compares to an average of just 4 per cent in low-income countries, the report adds.
”This wide gap means that 2.6 million children in high-income countries are missing out completely on the benefits … The early initiation of breastfeeding benefits every newborn – no matter where they live.”