If all mothers breastfed their newborns straight away after they were born, about 830,000 lives annually would be saved, says Save the Children in a new report. The authors added that there are four major barriers to better breastfeeding.

In their report, titled “Superfood for Babies”, Save the Children emphasized that there are four barriers that make it harder for more women to breastfeed successfully, including during the critical “power hour” immediately after birth.

The four major barriers are:

  • Community and cultural pressures
  • A shortage of health workers
  • Lack of maternity legislation
  • Breast milk substitute makers and their powerful marketing machines

Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, said:

“Last year, we saw a lot of handwringing in this country over how long is too long for moms to breastfeed. But the real scandal is that many moms around the world don’t get the support they need to start breastfeeding early – or even at all. It’s a choice all moms should have, and in the developing world it can literally be a matter of life and death for their babies.”

A newborn’s immune system is “jump-started” with colostrum, known as the first milk. The earlier a mother starts breastfeeding the more likely she is to carry on doing so for six months, which significantly reduces the risk of malnutrition and deadly diseases in infants, the authors explained.

After carrying out an analysis of the best studies on early breastfeeding that were carried out in Asia and Africa, the authors concluded that universal breastfeeding within that first “power hour” could save the lives of 830,000 babies each year.

Worldwide, breastfeeding rates have remained stubbornly low at 40%. Breastfeeding is the most effective tool today to reduce child deaths, Miles explained.

There are several barriers to successful breastfeeding. The authors listed the following:

  • Family pressures
  • A mistaken belief that colostrum is dirty
  • In one third of all births, there are no skilled health workers to support the mother
  • Lack of workplace policies
  • Lack of maternity leave
  • Direct marketing to mothers and health workers by milk formula makers. This is in violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes

In the USA, which is supposed to be at the forefront of economic and social development globally, only 6.7% of births occur in Baby Friendly hospitals, or places that meet the guidelines issued by WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF for the promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding. Compared to other industrialized nations, American mothers get the least maternity leave.

Although more American mothers are breastfeeding today than before, they are still not receiving the support they need if they decide to breastfeed or plan to carry on doing so for several months.

Miles said:

“Women everywhere should have all the support and information they need to make the best choices for themselves and for the health and survival of their children. At the same time, all of us can do something to help save hundreds of thousands of babies from needless death. It’s a matter of raising our voices for these children.”

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of one third of all child deaths worldwide – more than 2 million lives are lost every year. Breastfeeding provides infants with the best possible defense against malnutrition, the report explains.

Save the Children is urging Secretary Kerry to renew America’s commitment to a critical 2010 global nutrition initiative, which will expire in June this year. The 1,000 Days Partnership has already helped hundreds of thousands of infants in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Indonesia, who managed to survive and grow up healthy.

Below are some facts regarding breast milk and breastfeeding which are included in the report:

  • Experts say that nearly one fifth of all newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding started within the first hour after birth
  • Approximately 16% of all newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding occurred within the first 24 hours after birth
  • A newborn who is breastfed within one hour of being born is three times more likely to survive than one who is first breastfed on his/her second day of life
  • In the first hours/days after giving birth, the mother produces the most powerful natural immune system booster known to science – colostrum
  • About 830,000 deaths could be prevented if every newborn were breastfed during his/her first hour of life
  • A baby who is not breastfed has a risk of dying from pneumonia – 15 times higher than one who is breastfed
  • A baby who is not breastfed is 11 times more likely to die of diarrhea, compared to breastfed babies
  • “Sub-optimal” breastfeeding was linked to an estimated 1.4 million child deaths globally in 2008. “Sub-optimal” refers to babies who were not fed exclusively on breast milk, as well as those who were not breastfed during their second year of life.
  • A baby who is not breastfed is 14 times more likely to die than one who is exclusively breastfed. An infant who is partially breastfed is four times as likely to die.
  • Ninety-two million children younger than two months old are either fed formula milk or receive a mixture of breast milk and other foods – nearly two out of every three babies
  • The baby milk formula business is worth $25 billion annually
  • The baby-food industry (solids and liquids) is expected to grow by nearly one third by 2015. Mainly because of the growth in Asia

Written by Christian Nordqvist