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Saving Lives at Birth

Maternal and neonatal death rates are high in the Western Pacific Region.* Newborn babies die from being born too soon (prematurity) or too small (low birth weight), from severe infections, or from lack of oxygen around the time of birth (asphyxia).

Moreover, newborn death rates in the Western Pacific Region have declined at a slower rate than deaths in older children. 54% of children who died in the Region before their fifth birthday were newborns. This, however, can be prevented with simple precautions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) First Embrace initiative aims to decrease neonatal mortality and improve maternal health. First Embrace refers to life-saving skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth between the baby and its mother, a simple and basic action that is beneficial to all babies and mothers.

Early Essential Newborn Care

Early essential newborn care (EENC) is the simplest, most cost-effective preventive measure to significantly reduce newborn deaths. EENC could save at least 50 000 newborn lives each year in the Western Pacific Region. EENC addresses the most important causes of newborn death through the First Embrace, primarily by eliminating harmful or outdated newborn care practices.

EENC focuses on improving the quality of childbirth and newborn care in the first 24 hours. It is implemented through existing services and results in stronger health systems.

The First Embrace

The First Embrace refers to immediate skin-to-skin contact shortly after the baby is born. This simple act of love transfers life saving warmth, placental blood and protective bacteria from the mother to the newborn. It also has the added benefit of promoting a natural bond between mother and child that improves the condition of all babies including those who are premature, sick or born by caesarean section.

Through colostrum, the first milk secreted from the mother's breast, newborns are provided essential nutrients, antibodies and immune cells to protect them against diseases. Mothers can initiate exclusive breastfeeding when feeding cues from their babies occur such as drooling, tonguing, rooting and biting fist or fingers.

Routine care for the baby such as providing Vitamin K, eye prophylaxis, immunizations, complete examination and weighing should be done after the first breastfeeding is completed. Bathing should be delayed until 24 hours after birth. Care for newborns should be given in the proper sequence given their fragile state.