WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) —The Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) says all babies in Latin American and the Caribbean should be breastfed within the first hour of life, lamenting that half of babies (52 per cent) in the region are not breastfed within that time.
On Tuesday, PAHO stressed that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for newborns.
In 2017, an estimated 78 million babies — or three in five — were not breastfed within the first hour of life, “putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breast feeding,” according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a new report.
Most of these babies are born in low- and middle-income countries, the report says.
PAHO recommended breastfeeding of newborns within the first 60 minutes of life; breastfeeding of babies exclusively until the age of six months, and breastfeeding as a supplement until the age of two years.
“Latin America and the Caribbean is among the regions with the highest global averages for breastfeeding, yet much remains to be done if we are to achieve the goal of exclusively breastfeeding 50 per cent of all babies during the first six months of life,” said Ruben Grajeda, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on Nutrition.
Currently, just 38 per cent of all babies are breastfed exclusively until six months of age in the region, and just 32 per cent continue breastfeeding for two years, PAHO said.
“Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health, and reduces costs for healthcare systems, families and governments,” it said. “Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth protects new-born babies from infections and saves lives.
“Infants are at greater risk of death due to diarrhoea and other infections when they are not breastfed at all or when they are only partially breastfed,” it added.
PAHO said breastfeeding also improves a child’s IQ, school readiness and attendance, and is associated with earning higher income when they reach adulthood.
Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer in mothers, PAHO said.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, the new report urges governments, donors and other decision-makers to adopt strong legal measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breast milk substitutes.