New Delhi: World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. After that, it is considered a good practice to continue breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond, along with the introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary solid foods at six months. This World Breastfeeding Week, let’s look at the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies.
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children. These range from building a bond between mother and child to building immunity of the child and protecting mothers from various diseases. Yet, in India, breastfeeding shows a worrying trend. According to National Family and Health Survey 5 conducted in 2019-20 for 22 states and Union Territories (UTs) in the phase-1 of the survey shows an improvement in exclusive breastfeeding with 16 states and UTs reporting a rise. On the flip side, the survey has found a significant decline in children under three years of age who are breastfed within one hour of birth. The 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. Talking about the previous NFHS 4 survey, which also showed a worrying trend when it comes to breastfeeding, Dr Shariqua Yunus, Head, Nutrition and School feeding unit, World Food Programme, India said,
NFHS (National Family Health Survey) data which was collected in 2015-16 shows that only about four out of 10 children were breastfed in the first hour of birth, just five out of 10 children were exclusively breastfed for six months.
As we mark World Breastfeeding Week, here’s a quick look at the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies:
– According to UNICEF, the current research suggests that the risk of chronic disease is higher in those who are not breastfed compared to those who were breastfed in infancy
– World Health Organisation states that breastfeeding within one hour of life reduces the mother’s risk of death
– Both WHO and UNICEF suggest that breastfeeding has a significant effect on the prevalence of obesity in infants
– Breast milk contains many natural antibiotics, which helps protect the infants from many infectious illnesses such as gastritis, diarrhea and pneumonia, states WHO
– WHO says that breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests and are less prone to diabetes later in life
– In mothers, breastfeeding helps in protecting them against breast and uterine cancer, diabetes and postpartum depression, states WHO
What Experts Have To Say
Dr Indira Chakravarty, Former Director & Dean, All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health says,
Breastfeeding is the foundation period for the child’s whole life. If proper coverage is given during this time, then the child’s whole life will be better.
Basanta Kar, Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership and Transform Nutrition Champion Award reiterated the importance of breastfeeding AND said together we need to make sure the child is provided with the best nutrition during the first 1,000 days and the new mother is supported in a 360-degree way. He added,
Good nutrition is like a vaccine. We need to focus on the first 1,000 days, breastfeeding practices and make sure the new mothers know everything about this. Not just that, we need to focus on the health of the new mothers, make sure they are being provided with the crucial micronutrients that are needed to deliver a healthy baby and after the delivery for breastfeeding the infant.
Breastfeeding In Covid-19 Times
WHO recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue breastfeeding. Mothers should be counselled that the benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission.
It also states that in infants, the risk of COVID-19 infection is low, the infection is typically mild or asymptomatic, while the consequences of not breastfeeding and separation between mother and child can be significant.
Breastfeeding women with COVID-19 however should take adequate precautions, WHO suggests that new mothers should wash their hands frequently with soap and water especially before touching the baby. They should also wear a medical mask when in any contact with the baby, even while feeding.
Breastfeeding COVID-19 positive mothers are recommended to routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that they have touched.
Talking about vaccination, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced on July 2 that women who are pregnant or lactating can now take the vaccine against COVID-19. The Union Health Ministry said that it has made the decision based on the recommendations of the expert panel National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI). The guidelines said that the expecting mother can take the COVID vaccine anytime during the pregnancy and even after the birth the mother can go ahead and take the vaccine shot without any hesitation. It said that lactating mothers can continue breastfeeding like normal times as well.
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.