The World Health Organization (WHO) Region for the Western Pacific launched First Embrace today – a campaign highlighting simple steps that will save more than 50,000 newborn lives, and prevent hundreds of thousands of complications each year from unsafe practices in newborn care in the Region.
Half of the deaths of children under 5 occur within the first month of life. For this reason, First Embrace highlights early essential newborn care (ENCC) – a package of actions and interventions that address the most common causes of newborn death or disease, such as prematurity (being born too soon), low birth weight and severe infection.
“We lose far too many newborn infants to preventable factors, such as disease,” explains Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “First Embrace addresses this challenge by urging women and health-care providers to take simple steps to protect babies during the crucial time immediately after birth.”
Saving newborn infants, one step at a time Early essential newborn care is a series of simple and cost-effective measures designed to prevent newborn deaths by changing harmful medical practices. EENC can be performed in all birth settings without the need for complicated preparations or expensive technology.
EENC begins with the First Embrace, sustained skin-to-skin contact between the mother and child shortly after birth. This simple act transfers warmth, placental blood and protective bacteria, and promotes exclusive breastfeeding.
“Separation of the mother and child immediately after birth is an age-old practice. But it occurs during a crucial time when babies are programmed to look for their mother’s breast in order to breastfeed,” notes Dr. Maria Asuncion Silvestre, a paediatric neonatologist who consults for WHO.
Skin-to-skin contact should be followed by proper clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord with sterile instruments. Breastfeeding then initiates naturally at feeding cues, such as drooling, tonguing, rooting and biting the hand. Early initiation of breastfeeding is especially important because colostrum, or the first milk, contains essential nutrients, antibodies and immune cells.
“Colostrum acts like the baby’s first immunization,” explains Dr. Howard Sobel, WHO regional coordinator for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in the Western Pacific Region.
Other routine steps – such as provision of Vitamin K, eye prophylaxis, immunizations, complete examinations and weighing – should be performed after the first breastfeeding. These steps must be performed in proper sequence for maximum benefit.
The First Embrace Campaign In May 2014, WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released the Action Plan for Healthy Newborn Infants in the Western Pacific Region (2014 – 2020). A road map for newborn health, the plan calls on governments, United Nations agencies and other stakeholders to support its recommendations.
The plan calls for improved political and social support to secure an enabling environment for EENC and mobilization of families and communities to increase demand for these approaches. The First Embrace campaign seeks to engage the general public, health workers, policy-makers and civil society to champion EENC.
Health workers may be unaware of these relatively simple steps to protect newborns. In addition, customs and beliefs among some communities and health-care providers may act as a barrier to full implementation of EENC. Changing practices requires a supportive environment and informed families and individuals that insist on best practices from health-care providers.
“This campaign is about taking small, simple steps to save more than 50,000 newborn lives in the Western Pacific Region every year,” says Dr. Sobel. “We will also be improving lives of millions more by preventing countless infections.”
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“What is at stake is the future of our children – the future of our Region,” adds Dr. Shin. “I encourage everyone to support this campaign and improve the lives of newborn babies now and for generations to come.”