New Delhi, July 31: An estimated 78 million babies - or three in five - are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding, say according to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in a new report.
Most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries.
According to UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore, "When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death," adding, "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. Mothers simply don't receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities."
Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65%) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32%), the report says.
Nearly nine in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life," adding, "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."
The WHO and UNICEF-led Global Breastfeeding Collective, which tracks progress for breastfeeding policies and programmes also released the 2018 Global Breastfeeding Scorecard.