Breastmilk: Baby’s first pneumonia vaccine  

The first time I fed my daughter I was completely overwhelmed. I was nervous as my husband handed her to me. She was so tiny. How on earth would she be able to breastfeed with such a small mouth? 

A mother breastfeeding her newborn baby in a hospital bed. The baby is wearing a tiny white hat.
The first time I breastfed my baby.

We’ve been celebrating World Breastfeeding Week (1st – 7th August), so I’ve been looking back on photos of our breastfeeding journey. As it turned out I needn’t have worried. She latched straight on. Born knowing exactly what to do. 

I know this isn’t how everyone’s first breastfeeding experience goes. I was fortunate to have had amazing support. I’d had the same midwife throughout my whole pregnancy, attended a breastfeeding workshop with my husband as part of antenatal classes, and had skin to skin with my baby in the operating theatre immediately after my planned caesarean birth. 

I had my baby in a Baby-Friendly Hospital. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a global effort for improving the role of maternity services to support breastfeeding and help parents to develop close and loving relationships with their babies. 

Baby’s first vaccine 

That first feed gave my baby colostrum. This sticky yellow liquid, produced by the body before your milk comes in, has the power of an effective vaccine. It gives our babies protection against the bacteria which causes pneumonia and strengthens their natural defences. One recent survey of evidence estimates breastfeeding could prevent around one-third of respiratory infections and over half of hospital admissions associated with those infections. 

Despite the facts, many people don’t realise just how deadly pneumonia is for young children. Last year, nearly 1 million under-fives around the world died from pneumonia. That’s more than diarrhoea, malaria and measles combined.  

Many children in regions where children are most at risk of pneumonia are missing out on the protection of breastmilk. Only about half of children begin breastfeeding within the critical first hour, and more than half of children in low-income countries are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months. 

You can see here how breastfeeding rates drop as other foods and liquids are introduced: Charts showing how breastfeeding rates drop off rapidly in regions with a high burden of pneumonia. Specifically breastfeeding of children aged 0–5 months by feeding type and region

What needs to happen? 

We’re calling on governments to ensure all mothers and children have access to healthcare, regardless of where they are. And a critical part of that healthcare is effective breastfeeding promotion, protection and support. 

Mothers and babies need health workers who have the right skills and knowledge to support early and exclusive breastfeeding. That critical support from the beginning means I’m now breastfeeding my 14-month old, giving her the best start that I can. 

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