Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth has many benefits for the baby. Allowing the baby to latch on or suck within the first hour promotes strong sucking, which is vital for milk production. It also has many health benefits for the mother.
While it has been standard practice for decades to whisk newborns off to a bath within the first few hours of their birth, placing newborns on their mother’s bare chest – known as skin-to-skin contact – immediately after birth helps reduce mortality by regulating a baby’s heart rate, temperature and breathing, while also facilitating breastfeeding, its benefits for the mother are also tremendous
“Delaying newborn baths to ensure an early initiation of breastfeeding is a win-win both for the mother and the new baby. As the baby is suckling, it helps to ensure any part of the placenta that may be left inside the womb is expelled,” said Dr Moses O. Jola, a medical officer of health, Saki west local government.
Dr Jola speaking at a two-day South West media workshop with the theme: “Improving Health Outcomes for Children in Oyo State through Accelerated Action for Impact” in Ibadan, stated that this will further support the womb to contract quickly and return the womb back to its normal place.
Dr Jola stated; “it is a win-win situation; the baby gets the nutrients, including colostrums and the antibody that is required. On the other hand, this aids the contractions of the womb.
“We are not using breastfeeding to expel the placenta however when breastfeeding because of the contraction, if there is any retain product in the womb, the contraction will support its expulsion.”
Mrs Ada Ezeogu, UNICEF’s nutrition specialist, Akure office, said that early breastfeeding plays a critical part in reducing newborn deaths and keeping babies healthy.
She stated: “If you look at what the mortality is when we started preaching early initiation of breastfeeding and what it is now since we have started, there is a reduction.”
Moreover, Professor Oladosu Ojendegbe, Director of the Centre for Population and Reproductive Health, College of Medicine, stated that immediately putting the baby to breast causes a chemical called oxytocin to be released within the brain.
He declared: “Oxytocin will cause the womb to contract, which is why new mothers who put their babies to breast say they have tummy cramps, what the Yoruba call womowomo, literally meaning, “it is looking for the baby, it is looking for the baby”.
Professor Ojendegbe added; “the more the contractions, the less the bleeding they feel and the quicker their womb will go back to its normal form. When it goes back to normal, the raw area where the placenta came out from will close up preventing bacteria from entering in.”
Moreover, researchers said mothers practising early skin-to-skin contact and early initiation of breastfeeding with their newborns are more likely to produce sufficient milk, breastfeed within the first months of their babies’ lives, and continue breastfeeding for a longer time – a practice proven to improve health outcomes for both children and mothers.
In 2015, the Lancet reported earlier this year that breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months could save more than 800,000 children’s lives each year because it acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from diseases, and giving them a perfectly adapted nutritional supply they need at each developmental stage.
This amounts to a 13% reduction in the deaths of children under five and also supports healthy brain development, increased IQ scores and better school performance for all children.
Traditional practices also interfere with getting an early start to breastfeeding, depriving newborns of the essential nutrients, antibodies and skin-to-skin contact with their mother that protect them from disease and death.
In Nigeria, some newborns are given water or tea in lieu of breast milk, putting them at risk of diarrhoea and malnutrition. Countries in other parts of the world are inundated with formula marketing, which has led to plummeting breastfeeding rates.
The association between breastfeeding and women’s health has been studied extensively. Experts have associated a longer duration of breastfeeding with a risk reduction in breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
Across the lifetime of a cohort of women born in a single year, they found current suboptimal breastfeeding rates were associated with an excess premature death of mothers.