Earlier Breastfeeding Could Save 830,000 Babies a Year, Says Save the Children

New Report Identifies Four Major Barriers to Better Breastfeeding

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If all women around the world breastfed their babies immediately after birth, the lives of 830,000 babies a year could be saved. Read the Full Report

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WESTPORT, Conn. (Feb. 18, 2013) — If all women around the world breastfed their babies immediately after birth, the lives of 830,000 babies a year could be saved, Save the Children estimates in a new report released today.

In "Superfood for Babies," the international humanitarian and development agency identified four significant barriers that prevent more women from successfully breastfeeding, including during the critical "power hour" after birth. They are: cultural and community pressures, the health worker shortage, lack of maternity legislation, and aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

"Last year, we saw a lot of handwringing in this country over how long is too long for moms to breastfeed. But the real scandal is that many moms around the world don't get the support they need to start breastfeeding early – or even at all. It's a choice all moms should have, and in the developing world it can literally be a matter of life and death for their babies," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.

Breastfeeding in the "Power Hour" After Birth Saves Lives

The colostrum, as the first milk is called, jump starts a baby's immune system. Earlier breastfeeding also leads to higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding for six months, which further reduces vulnerability to malnutrition and deadly disease, Save the Children's new report explains. An analysis of the best available studies on early breastfeeding in Africa and Asia suggest that universal breastfeeding within the first hour of life could save 830,000 babies lives a year, the report says.

Breastfeeding is the world's most effective solution to reducing child deaths, yet global breastfeeding rates have stagnated at below 40 percent for two decades. On the heels of President Obama's State of the Union address pledge to help to save children around the world from preventable deaths, Save the Children's new report investigates what is keeping more women from breastfeeding immediately after birth or continuing for six months.

Moms in Developing World and U.S. Face Barriers to Breastfeeding

The report reveals barriers including: family pressures, cultural beliefs that the colostrum is dirty, lack of a skilled health worker to help moms at one third of all births, lack of maternity leave and supportive workplace policies, and evidence of direct marketing of formula to mothers and health workers in violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

While not as crucial to helping American babies survive as those in the developing world, breastfeeding here has proven health benefits as well, including lower chances for obesity. American mothers have the industrialized world's lowest level of protection when it comes to maternity leave policy, and only 6.7% of US births occur in "Baby Friendly" hospitals or birthing centers that meet World Health Organization and UNICEF guidelines for promoting early and exclusive breastfeeding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that U.S. breastfeeding rates have risen, but warned that many American women are not getting the support they need if they choose to breastfeed or continue breastfeeding.

Are We Supporting Moms Enough?

"Women everywhere should have all the support and information they need to make the best choices for themselves and for the health and survival of their children," Miles said. "At the same time, all of us can do something to help save hundreds of thousands of babies from needless death. It's a matter of raising our voices for these children."

Breastfeeding provides babies with the best possible defense against malnutrition, which is the underlying cause of one in three child deaths globally, more than 2 million child deaths a year. Learn more and watch a video about a breastfeeding program in Brazil.  

Save the Children is calling on Americans to tell Secretary Kerry renew the U.S. commitment to a critical 2010 global nutrition initiative. Set to expire in June, the 1,000 Days Partnership has already helped countries like Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Tanzania adopt nutrition strategies, including breastfeeding promotion, aimed at helping children survive and grow up healthy.

Help mothers get the support they need to breastfeed their babies. Sign the petition here: www.savethechildren.org/1000-days

Save the Children is the leading independent organization for children in need, with programs in more than 120 countries, including the United States. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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