Some south Indian mothers ignore 'only breast milk' advice and feed their newborns donkey's milk.
For instance, at a hospital in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu, an 80-year-old grandmother was seen feeding a newborn some liquid she had brought with her.
"This is donkey's milk. You will grow up and have a great voice," she declared triumphantly later, reports Pushpa Narayan in Times of India.
Posters displayed by the hospital authorities advising nursing mothers on exclusive breastfeeding of infants made no sense to her. She said: "It's a bit salty, but does immense good. It's a remedy for cough, liver complaints and exhaustion."
Doctors and nurses frequently warn nursing mothers not to feed the infants anything other than the mother's milk, but the 'grandma's recipe' continues to pose the threat of neo-natal infections in government maternity hospitals and also increase the chances of infants being susceptible to infection.
Paediatricians said donkey milk was not poisonous, but chances of the baby's getting infections through such feeding were high.
Statistics show that 26 million babies are born in the country every year. At least 1.2 million die in the first month and another 1.6 million in the first year, the most common cause being infection. In Tamil Nadu, at least 40,000 infants die within the first one year.
"We teach women good feeding practices during pregnancy. The lactose- based breast milk is a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate and minerals. When infants are fed with other food, the intake of colostrum (the early milk in mothers' breasts, also called immune milk) goes down," says hospital superintendent Dr N Saraswathy.
"The mother is also taught how to hold and feed the baby before the woman is shifted to her ward. But myths are so strong that we are often unable to convince the mothers about the benefits of mother's milk," she added.
Donkey milk is not the only thing given to infants. Some mothers give their newborns neem oil, some others honey. Saheera Banoo, a mother complained that the hospital authorities don't allow her to give her honey and spices.
The scene in Royapuram hospital is no different. "Until some years ago, we had several donkeys just behind the hospital. The donkey owners had been making a killing," a ward nurse said.