This article originally appeared in The Nation
ISLAMABAD – Each hour 95 babies can be saved globally if a mother breastfeeds in the first hour of life. In Pakistan where newborns account for nearly 50 per cent of all child deaths, breastfeeding in first hour of birth can prevent deaths of nearly 53,000 children every year.
These figures were released in Save the Children latest global report titled ‘Super Food for Babies: how overcoming barriers to breastfeeding will save children’s lives’, which was launched in an event held on Monday.
The global report stresses on the benefits of breastfeeding and how major barriers such as community and cultural pressures; the shortage of health workers; lack of maternity legislation and inappropriate promotion of breast-milk substitutes can be addressed to ensure that every infant receives the life-saving protection that breastfeeding can offer. The publication was launched under the banner of Save the Children’s global EVERY ONE Campaign, which aims at reducing maternal and under-five child mortality.
The report reveals that practicing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life and complementing that with soft foods afterwards could prevent 53,000 Pakistani children from dying each year. It is pertinent to note that one-in-eight of the young lives lost each year could be saved through breastfeeding alone. Globally, that means 830,000 more children could live to celebrate their fifth birthday.
Speaking at launch of the global report Ghulam Qadri, Deputy Country Director for Save the Children in Pakistan observed, “breastfeeding is the most effective of all ways to prevent the diseases and malnutrition which can cause child deaths.
“The mother’s milk contains all the energy and nutrients that a child needs to survive and thrive for the first six months of life,” he added. Save the Children’s research also revealed that 22 per cent of all newborn deaths could be prevented if infants were breastfed within the first hour.
“That’s the power of the first hour. Infants are in their most fragile state during that time and breast milk serves as a child’s first vaccine,” said Ghulam Qadri. “However, despite all the benefits of breastfeeding, just over a quarter of Pakistani children are breastfed exclusively.”
In studying the barriers to breastfeeding in Pakistan, the report found that about two-thirds of infants were given other liquids before breast milk, as mothers believe it is necessary to clean the intestines of newborns and provide them with other nutrients.
The findings of the report further indicate that, whilst majority of mothers in Pakistan said they were encouraged by health professionals to breastfeed, they were also advised to use formula milk or other milk or drinks or food for infants under six months of age. About 10 per cent of health professionals said their health facilities received free samples of breast milk substitutes, teats or bottles in the last six months.
“When a mother is presented with posters, free samples and advice on feeding their infants with anything other than breast milk at their health facility, they are likely to see it as an authoritative source for infant feeding,” said Dr Qudsia Uzma, Director Health & Nutrition, Save the Children. “But there is no doubt that mother’s milk is best for babies. Health workers should refrain from giving out these samples to mothers and all other marketing materials should be taken down from clinic and hospital walls.”
Speaking at the event Dr Donia Aziz, Member of Parliament, noted that the message of breast feeding was first given in the holy scriptures of Quran and that the teaching of Islam strongly endorse that our mothers should breastfeed their children for two years.
The event also formally launched the two Campaign Champions Farah Sadia, TV presenter and talk show host, and Haroon Rashid, singer and philanthropist who will take the cause of maternal and child health forward in Pakistan. Speaking on this occasion extended his support for the Every One Campaign causes and reiterated that he will spread the message of breast-feeding amongst his followers through popular media.
Upon presenting these findings from the report on Pakistan, the chief guest of the event Sania Nishter, imminent public health scholar and renowned academic, observed ‘no child deserves to die because they are not getting the right nutrients, and breast milk is not only free but also provides the best protection for infants to fight common diseases and prevents stunting’.
Already, 42 per cent of our children are stunted which is alarming as stunting is a cross-sectoral indicator, potentially with irreversible damage to their mental and physical development. If mothers and their families are given information and support to breastfeed their young ones, we can prevent thousands of infants from dying needlessly each year”. Dr Sania.