With new data showing that less than half of all mothers follow global recommendations to start breastfeeding their babies within an hour of giving birth, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) says more funding is needed to improve training and advocacy efforts.

The WHO’s Laurence Grummer-Strawn, an expert on infant and young child feeding, pointed to a host of benefits that come from early initiation of breastfeeding, including a reduced risk of common infections. Babies who begin breastfeeding between two and 23 hours after birth actually have a 33 percent greater risk of dying compared to newborns who start within the first hour, according to a recent meta-analysis.

The new findings from the WHO and UNICEF indicate, though, that the decades-long effort to encourage early initiation continues to face a variety of barriers: cultural practices, the way health systems are structured, and a basic lack of understanding among health workers.

Malnutrition Deeply spoke to Grummer-Strawn about what could be done to overcome those hurdles and improve early initiation rates.

Malnutrition Deeply: Was there anything that surprised you about the report’s findings?

Grummer-Strawn: I don’t know if I’d say surprised, necessarily, but certainly disappointed. Promoting early initiation of breastfeeding has been a part of WHO and UNICEF recommendations, really since 1989. It is disappointing that we aren’t even up to half of babies being put to the breast in the first hour after birth.

We would think that this is something that ought to be fairly easy to improve. We ought to be able to get this taken care of. We’re just frustrated, I think, that we haven’t been able to move this as much as we would’ve liked.

Read the full article about breastfeeding by Andrew Green at Malnutrition Deeply.