More than half of newborn babies are not breastfed in the first hour after birth, putting them at higher risk of disease and death, the United Nations' children's agency said on Friday.
According to UNICEF, some 77 million babies around the world each year are not breastfed within the first hour of their life. That is about 1 in 2 don't get breastfed after they are born each year.
UNICEF further said that feeding babies within an hour of birth gives them critical nutrients, antibodies. Newborn babies also get protection when they make skin contact with their mothers, it added..
"Breast milk is a baby's first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease," France Bégin, UNICEF senior nutrition adviser, said in a statement.
Delaying breastfeeding by two to 23 hours after birth increases the risk of a baby dying in its first month by 40 percent, while delaying it by 24 hours or more increases the risk of death to 80 percent, UNICEF added.
"Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn's chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding."
Efforts to promote early breastfeeding have been slow, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where mortality rates for children under age 5 are high, UNICEF said. As per studies, newborns are among nearly half of all deaths of children under age 5 .
Early breastfeeding rates nudged up to 60 percent in 2015 from 51 percent in 2000 in East and Southern Africa and were unchanged in West and Central Africa, it said.
In South Asia, rates of early breastfeeding tripled from 2000 but 21 million newborns a year are not breastfed in the first hour, UNICEF added.
Among the obstacles, UNICEF said, doctors, nurses and midwives assisting births in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are less likely to promote early breastfeeding than are unskilled attendants or relatives assisting.
UNICEF said that if more newborns are breastfed exclusively in the first six months of life, it could save over 800,000 lives each year.
According to UNICEF, 43 percent of infants less than 6 months old are fed breast milk exclusively, according to UNICEF. Those who are not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those fed only breast milk.
The figures were released ahead of World Breastfeeding Week running from August 1 to August 7 in more than 170 nations.
(With Agency input)