I haven’t written about breastfeeding on Thinly Spread before, I haven’t felt the need to shout, berate, pontificate or to join in with the Breast is Best vs Bottle Feeding debate. In the UK, I haven’t needed to. Here it is a matter of personal choice and decisions made by mothers are not likely to put babies’ lives at risk.

However, things are very different in developing countries where that decision can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Superfood and the Power Hour

Today sees the publication of a report by Save the Children and the launch of the latest strand in the No Child Born to Die campaign which I have been a part of for the last two years.

There is some worrying evidence and some quite horrifying statistics in that report. Here 81% of newborns are breastfed in that crucial first hour of life, they receive the rich, life protecting magic juice which is colostrum. That figure falls to 40% in the developing world and as low as 20% in some places such as Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Colostrum is a highly-nutritious substance full of vital antibodies that strengthen a baby’s immune system. It’s effectively a child’s first vaccination and really can save lives.

Almost a quarter – 22% – of babies who die in their first month could be saved if they started breastfeeding in the first hour of life.

If all babies were breastfed within the first hour of life, 830,000 children’s lives would be saved every year.

That’s 95 babies, every single hour.

That number stopped me in my tracks and made me sit up. Why are so many women not feeding their babies in that Power Hour? Why, when they have so little are they spending money on formula? Why, when many people have little or no access to clean water are they risking their babies lives instead of offering them free, clean, rich, healthy breast milk to give them the best start?

According to Superfood for Babies – Save the Children’s report – there are three key factors which are undermining breastfeeding in the developing world.

  • A massive shortage of midwives – 350,000 worldwide – means many women are deprived of the support and advice all mums so desperately need when they’ve just had a baby.
  • Cultural factors play a part too. Without a health worker to give them accurate advice, some women are told that colostrum is actually bad for their babies. They often end up giving their babies sugar water, herbal tea or butter as the first feed.
  • The marketing tactics and lobbying of some multinational breastmilk substitute companies, which can leave mums confused and lead to misunderstandings about the benefits of formula. We have evidence of certain manufacturers making potentially misleading advertising claims, giving health workers perks like free trips in return for recommending their formula to mums and even going into hospitals to promote their products directly to mums.

As a Nestle boycotter for the last 25 years that last one gets my goat and it’s an issue I’ll be returning to over the next few weeks as I get back up on my soap box for a bit of shouting. I’m also delighted to be bringing you an exclusive guest post tomorrow written by Nia, a co founder of the amazing voluntary breast feeding support organisation AIMI in Indonesia.

What can we do to help?

There are three big ways we can help make a difference

Donate -We can make sure more children survive the most precarious hour of their life – their first hour.

  • 75p could pay for the equipment needed to clear a baby’s lungs of mucus.
  • £5 could buy blankets to keep two newborn babies warm.
  • £8 could pay for a clean razor, cord clamp and pair of gloves to conduct a clean and safe delivery for woman in labour.
  • £14 could pay for a course of life-saving antibiotics for a newborn with an infection.
  • £32 could pay for a newborn care kit, including soap for good hygiene, a blanket to wrap the baby close, a sanitary pad for mum, a baby suit and nappies.
  • £63 can train a midwife in basic life-saving skills

Take action – Sign the petition calling on breast milk substitute companies to always put children’s health first.
Breastfeeding saves lives. So any breast milk substitute companies who aggressively promote their products could influence women’s choices about breastfeeding and in some cases those choices can put babies’ lives at risk. Stop breast milk substitute companies, like Danone and Nestle, from using or permitting any business practices which could contribute to undermining breastfeeding in poor countries.  They must change the way they market their formula, putting health warnings on their products that take up at least a third of the packaging. World leaders can do more too. Urge them to invest in fighting hunger when they meet at the G8 summit in the UK in June.

Help Spread the Word – Follow @savechildrenuk on Twitter, like their page on Facebook and follow them on Google+. Use the hashtag #firsthour to keep up with campaign news, events and calls to action as well as to share links and blog posts. If you are a blogger you can use this Blogger toolkit to help you write a post.

Together we can save more than half a million tiny lives.

Images from Save the Children.

Other bloggers supporting the breastfeeding campaign are: Dorky Mum, Baby Budgeting, NixdMinx, Life Love and Living with Boys


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