The UN says that babies who are not breastfed within the first 23 hours of being born are at a 40% increased risk of premature death – within their first 28 days. Children whose first breast feed is over 24 hours after their birth may increase their mortality risk in their first month by up to 80%.
Current data shows that 77 million babies, or 1 in 2 born every year, are not breastfed within the first hour of their lives. A mother’s milk provides the baby with essential antibodies and nutrients, and can act as the baby’s first “natural vaccine.” The breast milk and skin-to-skin contact can help improve the child’s immunity, thus making it resistant to a variety of diseases during its young life. 
UNICEF Senior Nutrition Adviser France Bégin, said:
“Making babies wait too long for the first critical contact with their mother outside the womb decreases the newborn’s chances of survival, limits milk supply and reduces the chances of exclusive breastfeeding. If all babies are fed nothing but breastmilk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year.”
Putting off breastfeeding can also create a shortage of milk in the mother’s breasts, which can make breastfeeding all the more challenging in the future.
It is also estimated that at least half of newborns are fed with alternatives to breast milk, many of which are far less nutritious. Furthermore, only 43% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. 
One barrier UNICEF’s study noticed was cultural. In some countries, it is customary to feed children cow’s milk, infant formula or sugar water in the first few months of life. Some children are fed these liquids exclusively.
Additionally, in countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, many women are not given the resources they need to properly breastfeed. The study showed that women who give birth with a skilled attendant are less likely to breastfeed within the baby’s first hour of life than if they give birth with unskilled attendants or relatives.
While the collective analyses recognize that breastfeeding may not be ideal for some women, any amount of breast milk within the child’s six months of life is helpful for the child’s immune system.
This article originally appeared at Natural Society.