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Overcoming Disruption Of Programmes And Health Services And Promoting Breastfeeding

The first hour of the newborn should be considered as the golden hour to make sure that essential newborn care services including breastfeeding is provided to the babies, says Mini Varghese, Country Director, Nutrition International in India

World Breastfeeding Week 2021: Overcoming Disruption Of Programmes And Health Services And Promoting Breastfeeding
  • Early initiation of breastfeeding has declined in 12 of 22 states: NFHS-5
  • Exclusive breastfeeding has improved in 16 states and UTs, as per NFHS-5
  • COVID-19 has made a dent in health and nutrition outcomes: Expert

New Delhi: Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the way of providing young infants with the essential nutrients required for their growth and development. WHO (World Health Organization) recommends initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of the birth of a child. However, the key findings of the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 for 22 states and Union Territories (UTs) included in phase-1 of the survey show a worrying trend in child feeding practices. A significant decline has been reported in children under three years of age who are breastfed within one hour of birth. NFHS-5 data shows that among the children surveyed, breastfeeding in the first hour of birth had shown a downward trend in 12 states and UTs out of 22. On World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2021 that aims to protect breastfeeding, NDTV speaks to Mini Varghese, Country Director, Nutrition International in India to understand the status of breastfeeding in India and ways to overcome the disruption of programmes and health services due to COVID-19.

Also Read: World Breastfeeding Week 2021: What Should The Plate Of A Lactating Mother Look Like Amid COVID-19 Pandemic To Enhance Her Immunity?

The Impact Of COVID-19 On Health And Nutrition

Explaining the impact of COVID-19, Ms Varghese said,

It is an established fact that good nutrition is fundamental for a healthy and productive nation and its people. Despite this understanding, nutrition has been under-prioritised for a very long time. The COVID-19 crisis that started in early 2020 has made a dent in the health and nutrition outcomes that India was aiming to achieve, unwinding the hard-won development gains made over the past decade. The fear of COVID-19 infection coupled with disruption in health services and reduced purchasing power and supply chains disruption has been impacting the overall nutrition aspects of children and women especially.

Ms Varghese further says that the essential health services have been disrupted because of the closure of schools, village health and nutrition days and Anganwadi centers. There has been a decline in uptake for health services such as antenatal check-ups, institutional deliveries and counselling of pregnant women and weighing of children, she adds.

Also Read: World Breastfeeding Week 2021: “Breastfeeding Is Not Something To Be Done In Isolation,” Says Actor Neha Dhupia

The Importance Of Early Initiation Of Breastfeeding

NFHS-5 data reflects that while there has been an improvement in institutional deliveries, early initiation of breastfeeding has fallen drastically. Among 22 states and UTs, Sikkim has reported the sharpest decline of 33.5 per cent in initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth. Ms Varghese believes that there is a clear failure of enacting the recommended best practices. WHO (World Health Organization) recommends initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of the birth of a child.

Breastfeeding provides the ideal nutrition for optimal growth and development. It also has a protective impact on diseases including SARS-CoV-2. For mothers, it improves birth spacing, helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of certain cancers, including breast and ovarian and may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke even long after giving birth. Therefore, it is important for us to promote breastfeeding within one hour in the institutional setting both in public and private. The first hour of the newborn should be considered as the golden hour to making sure that essential newborn care services including breastfeeding are provided to the babies, says Ms Varghese.

Also Read: World Breastfeeding Week 2021: How Can COVID-19 Positive Lactating Mothers Exercise Care And Caution While Nursing Their Babies?

How To Protect And Promote Breastfeeding

WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. The NFHS-5 data shows improvement in exclusive breastfeeding with 16 states and UTs reporting a rise. To further promote early initiation of breastfeeding, and exclusive breastfeeding for up to months, Ms Varghese suggests practising inclusion of a birth companion for the woman in the labour room, coupled with the ‘zero separation’ policy − which mandates the newborn to be put between the breast immediately after birth.

There is sufficient evidence to showcase that when breastfeeding is initiated within the institution and supported by the health care workers, there is a high likelihood of continuation of breastfeeding even at the home setting when they have been discharged from the health facility. The other thing to look into is the separation of low-birth weight or premature babies because of the special care that they require into the newborn intensive care units (NICU). While we focus on the survival of these babies it is also limiting the chances of breastfeeding. There are evidence on restructuring NICU as M-NICU (maternal and neonatal intensive care unit) to provide skin to skin contact and Kangaroo mother care services at the earliest to babies who need the most, says Ms Varghese.

Also Read: World Breastfeeding Week 2021: Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Mothers and Babies

To be able to continue exclusive breastfeeding beyond the four walls of the labour room, Ms Varghese highlights the need for an enabling environment and the support from the community and the family. To promote the same, she suggests two key interventions; first, counselling of pregnant women on the importance of breastfeeding.

This needs to be established in the antenatal care clinics so that they have adequate information to practice and they’re mentally prepared for that. Second, we need to capacitate the labour room staff to practice what they have learned and the other aspect is, retaining the trained staff within the labour room which is a challenge often in these health facilities, says Ms Varghese.

The expert is of the opinion that often healthcare workers fail to practice the learnings because there is no monitoring or they have not been adequately supported. Hence, it’s important to focus on them as well to improve overall services and essential newborn care including breastfeeding in our facilities.

Children are the future of the country and we must invest adequately to ensure that firm ground is there for their growth and development. Nutrition is fundamental. Nutrition is the foundation, and it cannot wait, says Ms Varghese.

Also Read: Expert Blog: COVID Hit Pregnant And Breastfeeding Mothers And Vaccination For Them

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 (WaterSanitation 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 pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,24,98,327 and 49,29,776 have died; 20,40,54,102 are active cases and 3,35,14,449 have recovered as on October 22, 2021 at 5:24 am.


3,41,43,236 15,786Cases
3,35,14,449 18,641Recovered
4,53,042 231Deaths
In India, there are 3,41,43,236 confirmed cases including 4,53,042 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,75,745 and 3,35,14,449 have recovered as on October 22, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths

65,98,218 1,573

27,899 1,434

64,30,394 2,968

1,39,925 39


48,88,523 8,733

82,093 1,240

47,79,228 9,855

27,202 118


29,84,849 365

9,017 86

29,37,848 443

37,984 8

Tamil Nadu

26,91,797 1,164

13,790 268

26,42,039 1,412

35,968 20

Andhra Pradesh

20,62,303 493

5,500 66

20,42,476 552

14,327 7

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,068 10

107 5

16,87,062 14

22,899 1

West Bengal

15,83,646 833

7,535 44

15,57,090 775

19,021 14


14,39,488 22

311 1

14,14,087 21



10,37,056 524

4,336 51

10,24,422 573

8,298 2


10,05,773 38

206 21

9,91,995 16

13,572 1


9,54,395 2

36 2

9,45,405 4



8,26,353 13

156 20

8,16,110 33


Madhya Pradesh

7,92,721 12

88 6

7,82,110 6



7,71,125 9

131 2

7,60,945 11



7,26,042 6

30 0

7,16,351 6



6,69,739 183

3,967 1

6,61,829 183

3,943 1


6,07,811 384

3,762 152

5,98,087 228

5,962 4


6,02,135 22

226 6

5,85,358 27

16,551 1


3,48,526 40

166 24

3,43,225 16



3,43,787 14

176 0

3,36,213 14


Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,386 87

814 14

3,26,143 73


Himachal Pradesh

2,22,138 202

1,452 58

2,16,955 140

3,731 4


1,77,765 59

618 21

1,73,790 35

3,357 3


1,27,564 43

454 7

1,25,258 50



1,23,051 81

1,346 14

1,19,800 94

1,905 1


1,15,944 737

10,034 229

1,05,510 962

400 4


84,369 18

105 10

83,448 8



83,210 52

735 26

81,034 76

1,441 2


65,315 3

26 2

64,469 1


Arunachal Pradesh

55,065 22

140 2

54,645 20



31,819 19

185 10

31,241 9



31,670 11

250 5

30,743 15

677 1


20,896 10

43 9

20,645 1


Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,678 2

4 2





0 0



Andaman And Nicobar Islands


7 0



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