Earlier Breastfeeding Could Save 830,000 Babies a Year

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 inappropriate 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.

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.

Improved breastfeeding is the best defense to reducing child deaths, yet global breastfeeding rates have stagnated below 40 percent for two decades. Save the Children’s new report follows President Obama’s State of the Union address pledge to help to save children around the world from preventable deaths.

Save the Children calls on Americans to support US leadership on saving children’s lives at savethechildren.org/1000-days.

While not as crucial to helping American babies survive as in the developing world, breastfeeding here has proven health benefits as well, including lower chances for obesity. American mothers have the weakest protections on maternity leave in the industrialized world, and only 6.7 percent of US births occur in “Baby Friendly” hospitals or birthing centers that meet World Health Organization and UNICEF guidelines for promoting breastfeeding.