The ‘First thousand days’ for any child is the time period between when a child is conceived till his or her 2nd birthday. This includes the time of pregnancy and the first 2 years of a child’s life.
It is the period of rapid growth both of the body and the brain. It is the time of tremendous potential but also a time of enormous vulnerability because if things are not properly managed, it can lead to long term consequences. This period offers us a unique window of opportunity to have healthier babies and a healthier nation.
There are many aspects to it, and nutrition, in particular, has a tremendous role. So, a lady’s nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and baby’s nutrition in the first 2 years determine a baby’s health status, and in turn, the nation’s growth and prosperity, if we look at the bigger picture.
A very smart investment for every nation thus will be investing in the health and nutrition of women (especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding), in promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding and correct complementary feeding practices for babies.
Any nation failing to invest in these will fare poorly!
Data from across the world shows that every 1 dollar invested in improving the nutrition of mothers and children gives a return of 35 dollars.
Our work is cut out for us, we need to invest in maternal and child nutrition. Good nutrition is when our body gets what it needs, in the amount it needs, for optimal growth, development and immunity.
The optimum nutrition for a baby in the first 6 months of life is his or her own mother’s milk and nothing else. There is a very simple logic behind it, that mother’s milk contains all nutrients required for the baby till 6 months in adequate amounts.
A newborn baby has yet to develop its own immunity (they are born with some immunity which they gain from their mother during the pregnancy and later with immediate skin to skin contact), so till the time the baby acquires good levels of immunity, mother’s milk provides immunity to the baby too (and continues to provide it till the time the baby continues breastfeeding).
Breastfeeding not only provides appropriate nutrition for the rapidly growing brain and body, but it also provides the baby with immunity and the most magical thing about it is that this immunity is dynamic, i.e. it changes based on the baby’s requirement on a second to the second basis, at no extra cost.
Nature has made a beautiful, sophisticated and hi-tech system. So, when a mother catches an infection, she secretes substances (antibodies) protective against that infection in her milk. Not only this, if her baby catches any infection, the baby’s saliva communicates with the mother’s breasts and mother’s breasts start producing protective substances (antibodies) in breastmilk which help babies fight that infection
After the baby is 6 months, a baby’s requirement increases and complementary foods are added to the baby’s diet, along with continued breastfeeding. The WHO recommends that a baby should be breastfed (along with appropriate complementary foods) till a minimum of 2 years of age.
This is so relevant and crucial in these times of COVID-19 pandemic. The researches tell us that Coronavirus does not get transmitted via breastmilk and COVID positive mothers secrete protective antibodies in their breastmilk!!
Sadly, the data coming from across the country shows a decline in our breastfeeding rates and the two chief reasons behind these are, myths and stigma associated with Coronavirus infection and lack of preparedness.
The good news is that it is remediable. All we need to do is create awareness about the Universal (WHO, UNICEF, BPNI, Association of Lactation Professionals India, ILCA, CDC) recommendations about immediate skin to skin contact and breastfeeding by the mother irrespective of her COVID status.
I understand that this is the role of government and the health care system but individuals can also play a big role. They need to take care of themselves in pregnancy, acquire breastfeeding knowledge by reading or attending ‘Breastfeeding Preparation’ classes, talk to their doctor about breastfeeding and seek the help of a skilled ‘Lactation Professional’ at the earliest if they face any challenges while breastfeeding.
To cut a long story short, breastfed babies and mothers are healthier and have better immune status. Breastfeeding is protective and recommended even if the mother is COVID positive.
Like we prepare for war by collecting ammunition and making strategies to keep our defense system strong and impenetrable, to fight disease pandemics like this COVID-19, we need to collect knowledge, build up our immunities from the initial days and have a plan of action for a healthier society.
About the Author: Dr. Shacchhee Baweja is the lactation consultant, pediatric, with BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.