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Early years

26th Jan 2020

Breastfeeding within an hour of birth cuts babies’ death risk significantly

Trine Jensen-Burke


It is almost like baby’s very first vaccine.

We all know breastfeeding provides babies with the absolute most perfect and tailor-made nutrition possible, and that breastfeeding on top of that also carries a whole load of benefits for mums too.

But did you know just how important it is to get breastfeeding going as soon as possible after birth?

According to a new report, published recently by WHO and Unicef,  breastfeeding newborn within an hour after birth cuts their death risk and provides lifelong health benefits. By contrast, waiting just two hours to introduce your breastmilk to your baby can increase the chances of a newborn dying by a third, while more than a day doubles the risk, according to the World Health Organisation.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said: ‘Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life.

‘We must urgently scale up support to mothers – be it from family members, health care workers, employers and governments – so they can give their children the start they deserve.’

Why is it so important to get going straight away? Experts say early breastfeeding boosts a baby’s immune system from the start, reducing their chances of developing life-threatening infections.

This might not sound so worrying in our parts of the world, where life-threatening infections are rare, but according to the report, it is estimated that three in five babies globally – around 78 million worldwide – are not breastfed within the first hour, and based on stats from many different studies, these babies had a significantly higher chance of dying within the first 28 days of life.


Baby’s first ‘vaccine’

The colostrum, the first milk your baby will get from your boobs, mama, is a nutritional and immune boosting miracle-worker, as it is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.
So while the risks of developing an infection are greater in low and middle-income countries, the health benefits of early breastfeeding in all countries should not be overlooked, the report’s authors say.
And early breastfeeding has more long-lasting effects too.

According to the researchers, giving a baby breastmilk within an hour of birth has been shown to reduce levels obesity in later life. It also carries health benefits for mothers, such as reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and type 2 diabetes.

With the UK having some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world around a fifth of babies there are consitantly missing out on the benefits of colostrum and breastmilk.

‘This wide gap means that 2.6 million children in high-income countries are missing out completely on the benefits,” reads the report. “The early initiation of breastfeeding benefits every newborn – no matter where they live.”

Henrietta Fore, Unicef executive director, said of the findings: “When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death. Yet each year, millions of newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons – all too often – are things we can change.”