Power of the First Hour

If I may I'd like to direct you to read about Save the Children's campaign to highlight breastfeeding as a key tool to battle infant hunger and mortality. Brodie turns 4 next week and there's nothing like the celebration of a birthday to bring the memories of those early days back to you. I like many new mothers struggled awfully with breastfeeding those first few weeks (months?). I felt woefully unprepared, unsupported and frequently unhinged. But let us not forget I had the resources at my fingertips to succeed.

This is not a post about breast versus bottle. That debate horse has been flogged many times over. If you are unclear concerning the benefits of breastfeeding - benefits seems like an inadequate word here - please make yourself aware. It's all there. I make no judgement on any parents decision on how to feed your infant. I trust every parent will do their best.

But take a moment to appreciate the power of breastfeeding within the first hour.

Save the Children estimate that 830,000 deaths a year could be avoided if every baby were breastfed within the first hour of life.

It’s estimated that 22% of newborn deaths could be prevented if breastfeeding started within the first hour after birth, and 16% if breastfeeding started within the first 24 hours.

An infant given breast milk within an hour of birth is up to three times more likely to survive than one breastfed a day later.

This actually is life or death.

Kickstarting babies immune systems through breastfeeding would save many, many lives. Just that first hour.

There is much more to say some other time on extending breastfeeding beyond the first hour but for now I applaud Save the Children for focusing their campaign on those first minutes. Immediate breastfeeding - where possible obviously - for every newborn is a lofty goal, but one which makes me wish I had more weight to throw behind it. I don't though so I had to settle for signing the peition and blogging here, urging you to do the same.

Petition you say? Well yes, Save the Children are taking action against the companies who make breast milk substitutes specifically Nestle and Danone. Because when it comes down to it, the bare bones of the situation, the reason for falling breastfeeding rates in the developing world is due to big business. The money to be made.

And whilst I'm not exactly thrilled at the way infant formula milk is marketed in the UK, at least here we know that there are measures in place to monitor advertising and the blurb printed on cans. It is not longer accepted that formula milk will be offered and given away with free gifts in hospitals as it once was. New mothers here in the UK ideally have education and a wealth of information available.

What really gets under my skin is the way formula milk is pushed in less economically developed countries, the real 'growth market' for breast milk substitutes. Yes I used the word 'pushed' with conviction. Unethical marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes to drive the profits of first world business at the expense of the world's most vulnerable women and children is something we should all be aware of.

I've simplified the arguments laid out in Save the Children's report but please read on if you're interested. I'd also direct you to this book which first opened my eyes with its tag line 'When breasts are bad for business'.

There has been a boycott running against Nestle since 1977 in reaction to its aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes and alleged failure to maintain agreed standards of practice. Joining the boycott is not for the fainthearted, here's a list of nestle brands and products if you want to know more.

Surely we should aim for the first moments of every child's life to be the best start we can provide? This is possible, substantial increases in breastfeeding rates have been achieved in some countries but we need to see global improvements.