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 about half of babies (52 percent) 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 breastfeeding,” 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 percent of all babies during the first six months of life,” said Ruben Grajeda, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on Nutrition.
Currently, just 38 percent of all babies are breastfed exclusively until six months of age in the region, and just 32 percent 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 newborn babies from infections and saves lives.
“Infants are at greater risk of death due to diarrhea 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.
PAHO is also calling on governments in the region to continue efforts to strengthen those measures already in place to protect, promote and support the right to breastfeeding.
These measures include the adoption and monitoring of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (The Code) and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions; the implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI); the implementation of a policy on maternity rights in line with the Convention and Recommendation of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on maternity protection; and specialized assistance for the feeding of infants and young children.
“These measures have not yet been scaled up to a national level or consistently implemented and enforced, and this really prevents growth in breastfeeding rates,” Grajeda said.
“It is, therefore, vital that these measures are enforced, so that the Code can be properly implemented and monitored, and that parents and caregivers are protected from inappropriate and misleading information,” he added.
This year, the slogan for Breastfeeding week, led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), is “Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life.
“In a world filled with inequality, crises and poverty, breastfeeding is the foundation of lifelong good health for babies and mothers,” PAHO said.