World Breastfeeding Week is
an annual celebration to promote exclusive breastfeeding
for the first six months of an infant's life. It was first celebrated in 1992
by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) but today it is observed
in over 120 countries around the world.
The WABA along with the
World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
organize events around the world with millions of participants each year. The
goal is to educate people on the tremendous health benefits of breast milk and
to establish a global breastfeeding culture.
WHO and UNICEF recommend
within an hour after the baby is born until the baby is
six months old, as mother's milk has been proved to be the best source of
nutrition for infants. After that, the child can be introduced to pureed fruits
and vegetables to supplement breastfeeding until the child is at least 18
This year, World
Breastfeeding Week is from August 1 to 7.
Breastfeeding Problems in India
Family Health Survey showed that less than 25 percent of all new mothers
initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of their baby's birth and more
than 50 percent of all women do not breastfeed exclusively for the first six
months. According to the World Health Organization, initiating breastfeeding
within an hour of birth can bring down the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) by 22
percent. Promoting breastfeeding through counseling sessions can reduce the
IMR by an additional 11 percent which is why breastfeeding promotion
initiatives are so important.
face insurmountable hurdles when it comes to raising their children. There are
very few mother-friendly workplaces and breastfeeding-friendly employers are
Most offices in
India don't provide new mothers with an area to use a breast pump and so they
are forced to use the restroom instead. There are no refrigeration facilities
and so storage of breast milk can become an issue. A few offices allow new
mothers to work from home for a couple of weeks after their maternity leave but
this is not the norm.
regarding breastfeeding reduce the
chances of women breastfeeding. Women may believe that bottle-feeding is better
as it allows the mother to track the exact amount of milk that her baby is
consuming. However, it is easier for a baby to suckle at their mother's breast
than to suck milk from the nipple of a bottle. Mothers may be told that
formula-fed babies sleep better. Research shows that formula-fed babies tend to
sleep for longer durations than breastfed babies but this is because formula
takes longer to digest. Since formula takes longer to digest, it starts to
ferment and this increases the chances of bloating, gas and discomfort.
have gained acceptance to a point where
it is considered "unnatural" to not use them! Although Indian laws prohibit the
promotion of infant foods, manufacturers find ways to make sure that they
remain the topic of discussion. For instance, a woman's magazine may feature an
interview with a seemingly unbiased new mother who swears by a certain type of baby formula
. She may go on
to talk about how formulas give the mother more freedom while providing her
baby with a nutritionally complete diet. However, numerous studies have proved
that breast milk is far superior to any formula on the market.
has become one of the key problem areas. In
the Indian Constitution, Maternity Benefits Act women are entitled to maternity
benefits without fear of losing her job. This includes 12 weeks of paid leave
and once she comes back to work, she is entitled to 2 nursing breaks during the
curse of her work day. While there are laws to protect breastfeeding, poor
enforcement of the rules negates their benefits. Furthermore, the supplementary
foods lobby is very powerful and has cause to push its own agenda.
woman should ever have to choose between the health and well being of her
infant and her career or income. Sadly, this is the very choice that thousands
of women across the Indian subcontinent are forced to make. In addition to
gender equality and societal attitudes that affect breastfeeding among women in
the Indian workforce, women across rural India are subjected to other forms of
discrimination and misinformation. To tackle the problems of breastfeeding and
infant mortality in India, awareness needs to be increased about the importance
of breastfeeding and concrete steps need to be taken to effect meaningful
changes in dominant social structures and institutions that otherwise seek to
undermine and undervalue women's physical needs, while exploiting their
reproductive abilities. Protection of a woman's right to breastfeed is rightly
coming to be recognized as a vital component of human rights, but in India we
also need to tackle social attitudes, a lack of education and awareness, poor
maternal health and the lack of access to basic health care services.
access to basic health care services and provisions for maternity leave are a
distant dream for women who live under conditions of bonded labor in many parts
of rural India, the situation isn't much better in India's metropolitan.
Workplace policies provide inadequate protection to mothers and maternity
legislation is often not enforced effectively enough. Steps need to be taken to
ensure adequate maternity leave to mothers, both before and after childbirth so
that a woman can nurture her newborn to the best of her abilities. Maternal care
for both mothers and their
infants needs to be made more affordable. Strategies to combat infant mortality
and under nutrition need to be overhauled, as a dramatic policy and funding
shift is needed when it comes to tackling the problem. At present, the major
focus in infant malnutrition is in programs for food aid and micronutrient
supplementation. While these programs are no doubt essential in many cases, the
scope of the problem could be greatly reduced if the emphasis shifted to
prevention of infant malnutrition through exclusive breastfeeding of children
under 6 months of age.
According to the World Health
Statistics Report for 2009, breastfeeding figures had risen marginally across
the world, with exclusive breastfeeding among infants under 6 months having
risen to about 40%. This figure is still abysmal considering that all children
benefit from breastfeeding. In India, breastfeeding needs to be made a top
public health priority as it requires not just financial investment, but
political, social and legal initiatives.
smaller steps that need to be taken include:
to impart information to mothers-to be and new mothers on the importance of
exclusive breastfeeding through individual or group counseling conducted by
trained health care workers.
- Improvement of maternity
benefits coupled with strict monitoring and enforcement of such laws. This also
means the implementation of swift and effective grievance redressal forums for
pregnant women and mothers whose rights are violated.
awareness programs and campaigns to eliminate any stigma from breastfeeding.
of breastfeeding from the commercial interests of infant food and breast-milk