The majority of newborns are not getting the right kind of diet to esure their chances of survival, and that is possibly contributing to more than 100 children dying before they turn five in Cameroon, according data put in the spot light this week.
Throughout the country, only 28% of babies get exclusive break milk during the first six months of life as medically recommended. Past the critical first six months, just 16.6% receive “minimum acceptable diet.”
The United Nations Children Fund is highlighting these figures, the conclusions of a study conducted with the National Institute of Statistics in 2014, to draw attention to impacts of poor breastfeeding on infant health in the country, at the start of the World Breastfeeding Week.
Critical first hour
Delayed introduction to breastfeeding is also putting the survival of children at risk, according to UNICEF.
Across the world, 77 million newborns are not breasted within the first hour, “depriving them of the essential nutrients, antibodies and skin-to-skin contact with their mother that protects them from disease and death,” UNICEF said in a statement.
“Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn’s chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding,” said France Bégin, UNICEF Senior Nutrition Adviser.
“If all babies are fed nothing but breast milk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year.”
UNICEF added that: “The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by 2-23 hours after birth increases the risk of dying in the first 28 days of life by 40 per cent. Delaying it by 24 hours or more increases that risk to 80 per cent.”
Sick and dying babies
Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months has benefits for the baby and mother, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria,” according webmd.com. “Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea.”
Exclusive breastfeeding among children under six helps fight malnutrition, which is principally responsible for ill-health and deaths among children. “In Cameroon, increasing this practice is a constant challenge for the wellbeing of [breastfeeding infants],” noted the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2014).
According to the report, about 32% of children under the age of five suffer from stunting. Others are hit by condition such as underweight, thinness and overweight, principally related to malnutrition.
“Malnutrition is present in Cameroon in its many forms, more especially in the child population” the 2014 MICS report noted. “Malnourished children are less resistant to disease, and are nine times more likely to die than those who are not malnourished.”
Accordant to MICS findings, 28 of every one thousand born alive in Cameroon is likely to die in the first month; 60 by their first birthday; 46 between the first and fifth birth day and 103 before turning five after birth.
These estimates are well above the global average. “Globally, the infant mortality rate has decreased from an estimated rate of 63 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 32 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015. Annual infant deaths have declined from 8.9 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2015,” according to WHO.
“Breastmilk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease,” said Bégin. “With newborns accounting for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.”