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Experts say that in the first hours and days of her baby’s life, the mother produces milk called colostrum, which is the most potent natural immune system booster known to science. The Save the Children research for this report estimates that 830,000 newborn deaths could be prevented if every infant were given breast milk in the first hour of life.
Breastfeeding gives an infant significant protection against pneumonia and diarrhoea, which are two major causes of deaths of children in poor countries. Physicians say if we can ensure that every infant is given breast milk immediately after birth and is fed only breast milkfor the first six months, we can greatly increase the chance that babies will survive and go on to fulfil their potential.
Indeed, experts at the Save the Children, a United Kingdom-based charity, note that around one in eight of the young lives lost each year could be prevented through breastfeeding, thereby making it the most effective of all ways to prevent the diseases and malnutrition that can cause child deaths.
The researchers warn that in the last two decades, breastfeeding has dropped down the global agenda and fallen lower in the priorities of national governments. Yet, breastfeeding is an amazing way to protect newborn babies and infants because, simply put, it saves lives.
“Breast milk is a superfood for babies and a powerful, natural antidote to hunger and disease,” Save the Children says.
It adds that breastfeeding ensures that babies get all the energy, nutrients and water they need to develop, while it also keeps the infant safe from life-threatening dangers such as unclean water or bacteria in food.
To minimise the risks of infections and other illnesses, physicians say infants should begin breastfeeding within the first hour of life and continue to breastfeed exclusively – that is, without any other foods or liquids – for six months, and then with complementary food for up to two years and beyond.
Save the Children statistics reveal that in the first hours and days after childbirth, a mother produces the first milk, called colostrum.
“The first hours and days of an infant’s life are the most dangerous – this is when they are at their most vulnerable and prone to infection. An estimated 830,000 deaths could be avoided if every baby were breastfed within the first hour of life. An infant given breast milk within an hour of birth is up to three times more likely to survive than one breastfed a day later,” Save the Children enthuses.
Indeed, it is estimated that 22 per cent of newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding started within the first hour after birth, and by 16 per cent if breastfeeding started within the first 24 hours. “Infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die of diarrhoea than those who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life,” the report warns.
This critical period is also when a mother produces the first milk, called colostrum – a highly nutritious substance full of vital antibodies that strengthen a baby’s immune system. It is, to all intents and purposes, a child’s first vaccination – and often makes the difference between life and death. Colostrum is a very potent natural immune system booster and should be given to the infant as soon as possible.
As well as being rich in antibodies and immune system-boosting cells, colostrum helps the infant’s intestines to mature and function effectively. The protective substances it contains make it more difficult for bacteria and allergens to attack the baby’s throat, lungs and intestines.
“Colostrum has a laxative effect, helping infants pass their first early stools and prevent jaundice. The colostrum gradually changes into mature milk during the first two weeks after birth but the disease-fighting properties of breast milk do not disappear,” the report assures.
There is only a small amount of colostrum and its consistency is thick, which helps the newborn learn to swallow slowly and breathe at the same time. This ensures that the infant’s stomach – which is only the size of its fist – is not overfilled, which can happen with other liquids commonly given, such as water, cow’s milk or tea, and can result in the baby not being able to digest the excess.
Save the Children estimates that 830,000 infant deaths in developing countries could be prevented if every baby were given breast milk, and only breast milk, in the first hour.
The bottom line: Breastfeed your baby and prevent infant mortality.
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