Can improvements in breast-feeding practices reduce neonatal mortality in developing countries?

Midwifery. 2001 Jun;17(2):80-92. doi: 10.1054/midw.2001.0253.


Objective: to review the literature on the relationship between breast-feeding practices in the first month of life and neonatal mortality.

Methods: Medline and Cochrane databases were searched using the keywords breastfeeding, and neonatal mortality, supplemented with additional searches using the keywords developing countries, colostrum, infant feeding and infant mortality, hypoglaecemia, hypothermia, breastfeeding practices, and suckling.

Findings: breast feeding helps prevent hypothermia and hypoglycaemia in newborn babies, which are contributory causes of early neonatal deaths especially among low birth weight and premature babies. During the late neonatal period, most deaths in developing countries are due to infections such as sepsis, acute respiratory tract infection, meningitis, omphalitis and diarrhoea. Feeding colostrum and breast feeding, especially exclusive breast feeding, protects against such deaths.

Key conclusions and implications for practice: in most developing countries, nearly all women breast feed in the first month of life, but often breast feeding is delayed beyond the first hour after birth, and exclusive breast feeding is not usually practised. Policies and training of staff of maternity centres and hospitals can encourage early initiation of breast feeding and exclusive breast feeding. Midwives can support community-based efforts to support exclusive breast feeding. Breast feeding plays an important role in reducing neonatal mortality and should be strongly emphasised by programmes attempting to reduce neonatal mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Breast Feeding / ethnology
  • Breast Feeding / psychology
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data*
  • Causality
  • Cause of Death
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Developing Countries*
  • Global Health
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / prevention & control
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Research Design / standards
  • Selection Bias
  • Time Factors
  • World Health Organization