The concept of breastfeeding week was formulated way back in the year 1990 by World Health Organisation (WHO) along with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). A memorandum was created to promote and support breastfeeding. In order to make this effective, the World Alliance of Breastfeeding Action was formed in 1991, and in 1992 one whole week was dedicated to promote this campaign. While it started with the support of 70 countries, presently there are over 120 countries that dedicate August 1 to 7 as breastfeeding week.
While this is heartening to know, there are still nearly 2 out of every 3 children in the world that are not breastfed for the recommended period of 6 months, and this has not improved in the last two decades. Studies have found that if these numbers improved, then about 8,20,000 children’s lives could be saved every year. In order to improve this status, the target of WHO was to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months to at least 50% by 2025 globally.
Why is breastfeeding important?
It is the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. It is a proven strategy that protects children against many illnesses ranging from diarrhoea to even pneumonia. It makes them less prone to non-communicable diseases. It has the essential nutrients for the child’s over all health and development.
Given the above benefits, what is the situation like in India?
The number of babies born every year in India are around 26 million, however, very few mothers make informed decision on how to feed their babies.
In fact, as per a survey conducted by a facebook group ‘Breastfeed Support for Indian Mothers’ showed that 50% of the women who gave birth in private hospitals were introduced to infant formula at birth, out of which, in two-thirds of the cases, it was given to the babies even without the mother’s consent. This is either due to health workers being unskilled or due to the marketing done by the baby food industry.
A recent National Family Health Service data shows that only 41.6% of children are breastfed within the first hour of birth and only 54.9% of the children are exclusively breastfed.
Therefore, making new mothers in India aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and the harmful effects of formula milk on the baby’s health is necessary. In this light it becomes important to understand the following:
What happens to babies that cannot be breastfed by their mothers?
The Ministry of Health Family Welfare has been planning a network of human milk banks for 661 newborn care units across the country. These banks are called Lactation Management Centres (LMC). Presently, the country has nearly 80 milk banks that are operational as per National Guidelines on Lactation Management Centres in Public Health Facilities.
However, the milk available in these LMCs have to be screened to ensure its safety, to check that it is not adulterated or contaminated with bacteria and viruses like HIV.
Hence, there is clearly a lot that the country as well as the world needs to do to spread awareness regarding the benefits of breastfeeding. Hence, WHO and UNICEF are calling governments, individuals, and partners to –
- Ensure that all mothers get Covid-19 vaccination, and continue breastfeeding after the vaccination;
- Breastfeeding counselling be made available to mothers both in person and digitally.
- Implement Internal Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitute to protect mothers from inappropriate marketing of substitutes;
- Ensure that mothers are supported to continue breastfeeding irrespective of their or child’s Covid-19 status.
– Prerana Saraf, Advocate & Associate, POSH at Work