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Delayed breastfeeding after birth increases the risk of newborn's death

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Newborns that are not breastfed within 24 hours of birth have an 80 per cent chance of dying due to a lack of essential nutrients that are passed on to the baby from the mother through breast milk, this is according to a recent report by Unicef.

“Breast milk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease,” said France Bégin, Unicef Senior Nutrition Adviser. “With newborns accounting for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.”

Delaying breastfeeding by two to 23 hours after birth also increases the risk of death in the first 28 days of life by 40 per cent, thus a baby needs to be fed within an hour after birth.

Indeed, by breast feeding the baby within the first hour, it receives colostrum which contains antibodies that protect them from disease. “Colostrum helps kick start the baby’s body system,” said Josephine Karoki, a lactation educator. “It is essential for a new born.”

The baby’s first contact with the mother is also important to both of them. “Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn’s chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding,” said France Bégin.

The statement echoes those of Josephine; “the first contact with the baby helps trigger hormones that are responsible for breast milk production. However, delaying breast feeding could be mostly due to hospital policy. ”

The Unicef report noted that women who deliver with a skilled birth attendant are less likely to initiate breastfeeding in the first hour of life, compared to women who deliver with unskilled attendants or relatives.

“Usually after delivery, most women are given some time to recover by their doctors especially those that undergo cesarean section,” said Josephine. “Also depending on the drugs the mother was given during labour and the hospital policy, they may not be able to breastfeed the baby immediately.”

Feeding babies other liquids such as sugar water, baby formula or cow’s milk within the first three days of life could also delay breast feeding because a mother breastfeeds less often, which deprives newborns of nutrition hence increasing the chance of death.

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