The breast milk elixir

Infants who are not breast-fed are 14 times more likely to die than those who are exclusively breast-fed, according to a major metastudy just published by Acta Paediatrica, a pediatrics journal.

Here in northern India, Austin and I met a mother, Maher Bano, whose daughter had been born at home just hours earlier. The baby was underweight and in danger of dying. The best medicine in this context is breast milk: Studies from India, Nepal and Ghana show that prompt breast-feeding reduces neonatal mortality by 44 percent.

But Maher Bano said that for the first 24 hours, the baby would be given only tea with honey.

“I’ll breast-feed the baby tomorrow, or the next day,” she said, explaining that she was following the guidance of the traditional birth attendant who had helped her deliver the baby and cut the cord. This is common: Worldwide, only 43 percent of babies are put to the breast within an hour of birth, as recommended by the World Health Organization.