Incorporating nutrition into delivery care: delivery care practices that affect child nutrition and maternal health
Delayed umbilical cord clamping, early skin-to-skin contact and early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding are three simple and inexpensive delivery care practices which have the potential to improve short-term and long-term nutrition and health outcomes in mothers and infants. In preterm infants, delayed clamping prevents intraventricular haemorrhage and improves haematological status, and in full-term infants, delayed clamping improves iron status through 6 months of age. Early skin-to-skin contact, in addition to regulating neonatal temperature, improves early breastfeeding behaviours, which has important implications for long-term infant nutrition and health. Finally, early exclusive breastfeeding prevents neonatal mortality and morbidity and provides numerous health and nutritional benefits to the infant, throughout infancy and beyond, as well as to the mother. Though each practice has been the subject of controlled trials and systematic reviews, with evidence of benefit from their implementation, these practices are not common in many delivery settings, nor are their long-term effects on infant and maternal nutrition and health status adequately recognized. We discuss the immediate and long-term health and nutrition benefits of each practice, and identify the policy and programme changes needed for integration and implementation of these practices into standard delivery care.