All women deserve the support they need to breastfeed, if they choose to. Breastfeeding has important benefits for moms and babies everywhere, and can literally save lives in the developing world. Save the Children’s new report, Superfood for Babies, estimates that 830,000 babies could be saved if all women breastfed in the first hour of life. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months could save even more lives.
Yet, the report explains, moms face four significant barriers to successful breastfeeding. They are cultural and community pressures, the health worker shortage, lack of maternity legislation, and inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes.
In the last two decades there has been huge global progress in reducing child mortality. Five million fewer children died in 2011 than in 1990. The world is nearing a tipping point, the time at which the eradication of preventable child deaths becomes a real possibility. There is still a long way to go to achieve that goal.
One-third of child deaths are still attributable to malnutrition; the reduction in malnutrition rates has been proceeding at a stubbornly slow pace. Unless malnutrition is tackled it threatens to become the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of development, holding back progress in other areas. We must also tackle the unacceptably high number of newborn deaths: while overall child mortality rates are falling, a larger proportion of deaths now occur within the first month of life. Breastfeeding saves lives. It’s the closest thing there is to a ‘silver bullet’ in the fight against malnutrition and newborn deaths.
Breast milk is a superfood. In the first hours and days of her baby’s life the mother produces milk called colostrum, the most potent natural immune system booster known to science. Research for this report estimates that 830,000 newborn deaths could be prevented every year if all infants were given breast milk in the first hour of life. It is not only through the ‘power of the first hour’ that breastfeeding is beneficial. If an infant is fed only breast milk for the first six months they are protected against major childhood diseases.
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