Close to 500,000 new born (one in two new born) in Ghana are not put to the breast within an hour of birth.
This deprives them of the essential nutrients and anti-bodies that bond them with their mothers and prevents them from getting diseases, UNICEF has announced.
UNICEF said the inability to put babies to breast within the first hour of their birth prevents skin-to-skin bonding with their mothers, that also nourishes and protects them from disease and death, and keeps them warm.
“To make babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the new born’s chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding,” said France Bégin, UNICEF Senior Nutrition Adviser, stated in a statement copied to the Ghana News Agency in Accra.
The statement was to mark World Breastfeeding Week which is celebrated annually from August 1- August 7.
The annual week is celebrated in more than 170 countries to promote breastfeeding and improve infant nutrition around the world.
Ms Begin said: “If all babies are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year worldwide, “she added.
She said progress in getting more new born breastfeed within the first hour of life has been slow over the past 15 years, UNICEF data show.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where under-five mortality rates are the highest worldwide, early breastfeeding rates increased by just 10 percentage points since 2000 in East and Southern Africa but have remained unchanged in West and Central Africa.
The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey 2014 shows that almost half of Ghanaian babies are not breastfed within one hour of birth.
Even though trends in childhood mortality in Ghana show a decline, more lives would be saved if the rate of early initiation of breastfeeding is improved.
The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth increases the risk of dying in the first 28 days of life by 40 per cent whereas delaying it by 24 hours or more increases that risk to 80 per cent.
According to Begin: “Breastmilk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease. “With newborns accounting for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.
“Ensuring every newborn is optimally breastfed is a responsibility not only for the mother, but for society as a whole. Successful practice of breastfeeding requires skilled instruction, a supportive environment and time, he said.
“Mothers need assistance and encouragement from their healthcare providers, spouses, families, communities, employers and government so they can provide their children with optimal breastfeeding, the healthiest start to life,” said UNICEF Ghana Representative, Susan Namondo Ngongi.
UNICEF analyses show that women are not getting the help they need to start breastfeeding immediately after birth even when a doctor, nurse or midwife is assisting with their delivery. In Ghana for example, 74 per cent of births are attended by trained health workers but only half of the babies are breastfed within the first hour after birth.
This is a serious missed opportunity that calls for more effort to be made to ensure that support is provided for every child delivered at a health facility to be put to breast within the first hour following delivery.
Feeding babies other liquids or foods is another reason early breastfeeding is delayed. In many countries, including Ghana, it is customary to feed a baby infant formula or water in the first three days of life.
Almost half of all newborns are fed these liquids. In some health facilities in Ghana, mothers are allowed to feed their babies with infant formula, water, sugared water or other pre-lacteal feeds soon after delivery.
When babies are given less nutritious alternatives to breastmilk, they breastfeed less often, making it harder for mothers to start and continue breastfeeding.
Globally, only 43 per cent of infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed while in Ghana, only 52 per cent of infants less than six months old are exclusively breastfed. Babies who are not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those who are fed only breastmilk.