A new report says more than 800,000 babies’ lives could be saved every year, if all women began breastfeeding within the first hour of giving birth. Save the Children calls breastfeeding one of the best ways to prevent malnutrition, a major killer of children under age five.
Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles says it’s vital to begin breastfeeding soon after a child is born.
“It’s extremely critical because to get mothers to actually start breastfeeding can sometimes be the hardest part. And that first milk from mothers, that contains something called colostrum, is an incredibly nutritious form of breast milk and it actually has a lot of immunity powers, as well. And it really only happens in those first couple of hours,” she said.
The report describes colostrum as a child’s “first immunization.” But in some cultures, such as parts of Niger, there’s a myth that colostrum is dangerous.
“One of the biggest barriers that we found, when we looked at this report, to moms’ breastfeeding, is a lot of these cultural beliefs and one of them is that colostrum is, in fact, bad for babies. So, in a lot of places around the world the mothers actually throw it out. And it’s the best thing that you could be giving to your babies. So a lot of this is about behavior change. And those are just old traditions that have been passed down and things that we’re trying to change, obviously,” said Miles.
Many mothers believe their babies need to eat something besides breast milk. Miles said that water, sugar water and tea are not necessary.
“Actually babies don’t need any of those things. To demonstrate this we asked people to watch their animals. Watch the fact that baby animals don’t drink water. They just drink mother’s milk. It’s just the same with human babies. They don’t need anything but breast milk,” she said.
There’s another reason, she said, to start breastfeeding early.
“The earlier moms start breastfeeding the more likely they are to continue breastfeeding for the first six months. And that has tremendous health benefits for babies,” she said.
The head of Save the Children said another obstacle to breastfeeding is a shortage of healthcare workers in developing countries.
“When I went and had my baby at the hospital I had somebody helping me learn how to breastfeed. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. It’s very helpful to have somebody help you learn how to do that. These health workers, with basic knowledge, are really important to help moms start breastfeeding and to keep breastfeeding.”
The report, Super Food for Babies, recommends that every country should ensure minimum maternity leave of at least 14 weeks. And when women do return to work, they should receive support so they can continue to breastfeed.
Miles said that an additional obstacle to breastfeeding is the lobbying practices of some companies that manufacture baby formulas. She said the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes says companies cannot directly target their advertising campaigns to mothers, health care workers or hospitals.
She said that great strides have been made in recent years in efforts to reduce child mortality. She says even more lives could be saved if many more women breastfed their babies.