New Delhi: Only 41.6% of babies are breastfed within an hour of being born, despite 79% of women delivering in a healthcare institution, a report released by Unicef on Thursday said.

The report said that about 95% children in India were breastfed at some point in their early years.

“The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicates that 54.9% children are exclusively breastfed and exclusive breastfeeding is on an average for 2.9 months. Use of water and other fluids is one of the main reasons for discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding," Unicef said in a statement.

The study found that globally every year approximately 7.6 million babies were not breastfed.

The report indicated that though breastmilk protects babies and mothers against deadly diseases, and leads to better IQ and educational outcomes, an estimated 21% of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed. In low-and-middle-income countries, the figure is 4%.

The study also noted that babies are more likely to be breastfed at least once in low- and-middle-income countries like Bhutan (99%), Madagascar (99%) and Peru (99%) than those born in Ireland (55%) the United States (74%) or Spain (77%). The United States alone accounts for more than one-third of the 2.6 million babies in high-income countries who are never breastfed.

However, within low-and-middle-income countries, wealth disparities affect how long a mother will continue to breastfeed her child, the data show. Babies from the poorest families have rates for breastfeeding at 2 years that are 1.5 times higher than those from the richest families, the report said.

The gaps are widest in West and Central Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean, where babies from the poorest families have breastfeeding rates at 2 years that are nearly double those from wealthier families.

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