Breastfeeding is an essential factor in reducing child mortality, high level of wasting, stunting, underweight, high levels of anaemia among children. An analysis of NFHS-4 shows breastfeeding within one hour is only 41.6% and exclusive breastfeeding (0-6 months) is only 54.9%.
It is noteworthy that in India institutional deliveries have increased almost up to 80% as per National Family and Health Survey-4 (2015-16) but irrespective of that, the rate of mothers breastfeeding within one hour of the birth or exclusively feeding their children is very low. This shows that somewhere we are missing on birth preparedness, counselling of mothers, weighing the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child. Exclusive Breastfeeding for the first 6 months followed by complementary feeding practices together can prevent almost one-fifth of deaths in children under five years.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year for the last 29 years across the world from 1st to 7th August. This year the theme of the campaign is "Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet". The newly mothers find themselves surrounded by a plethora of the myths and misconception associated COVID-19. Recently, the data from the states have reported a drop in institutional deliveries. The Main Reasons for Drop-in Institutional Deliveries has been due to lockdowns, fear of infections and thus people avoiding the physical contact or preference to go to small nursing homes or delivery at homes. Now since the lockdown is opened up, it is very essential to address the issue of myths and misconception.
The World Health Organization (WHO) endorses that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counselled that the advantages of breastfeeding significantly outweigh the potential risks for transmission. Breastfeeding is especially effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the system by directly transferring antibodies from the mother. Breastfeeding benefits baby's Immune System. Mothers milk provides virtually all the protein, sugar, and fat your baby needs to be healthy, and it also contains many substances that benefit your baby's immune system, including antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells
The research commissioned by India Consensus, a collaboration between Tata Trusts and Copenhagen Consensus, analysed Mass media promotion and intensive counselling of breastfeeding a cheap, yet very powerful intervention with a high BCR. In Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, the researcher studies a breastfeeding mass media campaign, using television advertisements and counselling of mothers. In Rajasthan, 58% of mothers exclusively breastfeed, while in Andhra Pradesh the figure is 70 %. Based on international evidence, a campaign could increase these to 90% and 93%, saving 12,628 infant lives in Rajasthan and 5,982 lives in AP. Using the language of benefit-cost analysis, in each state the policy would have benefits worth around 8-times costs. Seldom in life are the benefits of simple, cheap policies so obvious and clear-cut: the new evidence points unambiguously to massive benefits from prioritising closing gaps in nutrition interventions. (Abusaleh Shariff; Sharma, 2018)
The research proposes breastfeeding promotion programs, TV advertisements to be broadcasted during prime time shows, Counselling of newly mothers by a dedicated health staff- one for every 120 visiting mothers - who can teach the importance of breastfeeding to mothers who make pre-natal visits or those mothers who delivered a baby and are admitted in the hospital. Distribution of IEC material /printed fliers/ pamphlets which contain the communication material to mothers which they are given orally at hospitals. Training of mothers, mother and family counselling, IPC, IEC, Training of the front-line workers.
Becoming the parent of a new baby is both a blessing and a huge responsibility. This week, as we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we need to call on societies, governments and all employers to adopt policies that are cheap, doable and support breastfeeding. Empowering parents and enabling communities and societies is need of an hour. Breastfeeding requires counselling support, encouragement and guidance. With these basic steps, implemented properly, we can significantly improve breastfeeding rates around the world and give children the best possible start in life.
(Dr Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Dr Manorama Bakshi is Social Development & Public Health Professional with over 22 years of experience. This was first published in IANS Life.)