Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

Photo of the Week: Breastfeeding: The Power of the First Hour

By Ian Hurley on March 4, 2013
Philippines
Asia


Photo: Suzanne Lee/Save the Children

Myleene Klass, a high profile UK celebrity, TV host, violinist and pianist, visits Arlene, 34, a new mother and Hans, her 1 day old baby, who has been breastfed since birth, in the Florencio V. Memorial Hospital in Paranaque city, Metro Manila, The Philippines.  Myleene Klass visted the Philippines, the homeland of her mother, with Save the Children to learn more about the importance of breastfeeding. In a new report, Superfood for Babies, the charity says that if babies receive Colostrum – the mother’s first milk – within an hour of birth, it will kick start the child’s immune system, making them three times more likely to survive. And, if the mother continues feeding for the next six months, then a child growing up in the developing world is up to 15 times less likely to die from killer diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.

There has been great progress in reducing child mortality over the last 15 to 20 years. According to UNICEF, 5 million fewer children died in 2011 than in 1990. This has created tremendous potential for countries around the world to leverage their human capital to help achieve other socio, economic and political objectives.

Despite these important steps forward, the pace of newborn mortality has decreased at a slower rate than maternal and child mortality and now represents a staggering 43% of under-5 deaths globally.

While that statistic seems daunting, there is a lot of hope. Hope that lies not in blind faith but in key interventions – ones that are low cost and scalable – that have the potential to save millions of newborn lives around the world each year.

One the interventions that has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of newborns is breastfeeding.

Save the Children recently released a comprehensive report on the state of breastfeeding around the world “Superfood for Babies” and the results were surprising. It determined that if breastfed in the first hour of life, an estimated 830,000 newborn lives could be saved ever year. That is truly exciting and should be cause for optimism.

Breastfeeding in developing countries, where the need for it is the greatest, faces challenges though. The report lays out 4 barriers to breastfeeding:

  • Community and cultural barriers
  • The health worker barrier
  • Lack of maternal legislation
  • Bad corporate behavior

The public response has been swift. People across world representing large sectors of civil society have spoken out, taken to their computers and to the streets to advance breastfeeding as a practical, low-cost and feasible intervention. For those interested in social media, just take a look at the #FirstHour hashtag to get a small sense of what people are thinking.

Moving forward, it is important for governments to make commitments to promote breastfeeding. For with commitments, progress often follows.