As Malawi joins the rest of the world in observing World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7, the latest United Nations Children’s fund (Unicef) report has shown that the country’s breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth has gone down, minimizing chances of child survival in the country.
According to the report newborns breastfed in the first hour of life are significantly more likely to survive, however a delay of a few hours after birth could pose life-threatening consequences.
Quoting the Malawi Demographic Health Survey, Unicef said, the number of children who are exclusively breastfed in the first six months has gone down from 71percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2016.
The latest figures, between 2013 and 2018, ranks Malawi on position 11in the world with Sri Lanka on position one and Montenegro the last among the 76 countries.
The report further observes that about 78 million babies globally– or three in five – are 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.
Reads the report in part: “Breastfeeding rates within the first hour after birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 percent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32 percent).”
The report released by Unicef in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages countries to advance policies and programmes that help all mothers to start breastfeeding in the first hour of their child’s life.
Commenting on the report, Unicef Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig said breast milk alone is sufficient and beneficial for a baby to survive the first 6 months of life.
He added: “Breastfeeding gives every child the healthiest start to life. It is a baby’s first vaccine and the best source of nutrition. It can also bolster brain development.
“Family members, health care workers, employers and governments must support mothers so they can give their children the start they deserve. Babies are at greater risk of death due to diarrhoea and other infections when they are only partially breastfed or not breastfed at all. ”
It is recommended that children under six months be exclusively breastfed but nine percent of babies less than six months in Malawi consume plain water, three percent consume non-milk liquids, two percent consume other milk, and 18 percent consume complementary foods in addition to breast milk, according to Unicef.
Furthermore, seven percent of babies under six months are not breastfed at all.
Unicef ran a poll on its Short Message Service (SMS) polling platform- U-Report- to assess the knowledge and opinions of young people around breastfeeding where 96 percent of U-Reporters say they think that breastfeeding is important for children to survive and be healthy but only 57 percent know that children should be breastfed until the age of two.
Most U-Reporters, 66 percent, generally know that children should start eating complementary food in addition to milk when they reach six months old.
U-Report allows young people to share their views through regular opinion polling. It has 130,000 participants called U-Reporters, from across Malawi.
The Malawi Demographic Health Survey data shows that the proportion of children who are breastfed decreases with increasing child age from 91 percent among children age 12-17 months to 77 percent among children aged 18-23 months.
But Wedenig highlighted that breastfeeding keeps babies healthy in their first days and the benefits last well into adulthood.