1 August 2007 Two United Nations agencies have kicked off World Breastfeeding Week today with a call for enabling new mothers to nurse their babies immediately after birth to prevent a significant number of neonatal deaths in developing countries.
“More than one third of child deaths occur during the first fragile month of life,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “Early breastfeeding provides critical nutrients, protects infants against deadly diseases and fosters growth and development.”
UNICEF estimates that exclusive breastfeeding to the age of six months can prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children under the age of five each year.
The issue is particularly relevant in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Some 10 per cent of all babies there die before the age of one and most neonatal deaths occur at home.
Though the rate of exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months has more than doubled in the region since 1990 – to 30 per cent – this still leaves hundreds of thousands of children vulnerable to disease and death.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) too recommends that all children be exclusively breastfed for six months, and believes colostrum – the sticky, yellowish substance that is rich in antibodies and produced by the mother soon after birth – is the perfect food for every newborn.
Mother’s “first milk” not only nourishes, but it also protects and is “just what the baby needs during its first few days,” according to WHO.
“In a world where more than 10 million children die before their fifth birthday due to preventable causes, and where malnutrition is still rampant and associated with over half of all childhood deaths, there is simply no time to waste,” stated WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, stressing that breastfeeding needs to start in the first hour of life.
However, due to a widespread lack of awareness of its qualities and its key role in contributing to the health and growth of newborns, colostrum is frequently discarded. Feeding water or other liquids deprives babies of a good start in life, notes the agency.