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Early initiation of breastfeeding
Early initiation of breastfeeding (within the first hour) provides benefits for infant and mother.
Read Alive & Thrive’s technical brief, "Impact of early initiation of exlusive breastfeeding on newborn deaths"
- Saves lives. Early initiation ensures that a newborn receives colostrum, the “first milk.” Colostrum is often considered the baby’s first immunization because of its high levels of vitamin A, antibodies, and other protective factors. Colostrum is clean and pure and protects against infection. Early and frequent breastfeeding, especially if accompanied by maternal-infant skin-to-skin contact, stabilizes the baby’s temperature, respiratory rate, and blood sugar level. Studies in Nepal and Ghana suggest that initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour could prevent 19-22 percent of neonatal deaths.
- Helps establish breastfeeding. Early suckling is associated with successful establishment and maintenance of breastfeeding throughout infancy.
- Fosters bonding between mother and child
- Takes advantage of the newborn’s intense suckling reflex and alert state
- Reduces risk of mother’s postpartum hemorrhage
Promoting and supporting early initiation of breastfeeding
Despite its benefits, many women delay initiation of breastfeeding. Only 39 percent of newborns in developing countries are put to the breast within one hour of birth. Establishing good breastfeeding practices in the first days is critical to the health of the infant and to breastfeeding success. Initiating breastfeeding is easiest and most successful when a mother is physically and psychologically prepared for birth and breastfeeding and when she is informed, supported, and confident of her ability to care for her newborn. The following actions can increase rates of early initiation of breastfeeding.
- Identify the practices, beliefs, concerns, and constraints to early and exclusive breastfeeding and address them through appropriate messages and changes in delivery and postpartum procedures
- Counsel women during antenatal care on early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding
- Upgrade the skills of trained attendants to support early and exclusive breastfeeding
- Make skin-to-skin contact and initiation of breastfeeding the first routine after delivery
- Practice the "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding" in maternity services
- Praise the mother for giving colostrum, provide ongoing encouragement, and assist with positioning and attachment