New Delhi: Every pregnant woman is about told the importance of breastfeeding her child, right from the very first hour of the childbirth till the child is six -month-old. And, yet in India only 55% of babies are exclusively breastfed within the duration of 0-6 months and only 41% are fed within an hour of their birth. With a mission to encourage more women to breastfeed their babies, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), along with other global organisations observed the 27th World Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 August 2019. This year’s theme was “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding: Now and for the future – Cost of Inadequate Breastfeeding is Too High to be Ignored”.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated to commemorate the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990. A 2016 UNICEF-WHO report on “Nurturing the Health and Wealth Of Nations: The Investment Case For Breastfeeding” notes that India, along with Indonesia, China, Mexico and Nigeria, accounts for more than 236,000 infant deaths every year due to inadequate breastfeeding.

Soma Kolay, a mother of a 1-year-old kid, said: “I had my C-section in a private hospital where there were four other women who had the same operation on the same day. Though I was able to breastfeed my baby, the others weren’t. During the whole time no doctor or nurse was around to help any of us in breastfeeding.”

Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, BPNI, told The Sunday Guardian, “According to the national data, only 41% women are able to start breastfeeding within one hour of birth. This study found the case is same whether it is government or private hospitals, urban or rural areas. In fact the percentage of women, in rural and urban areas, facing difficulty in breastfeeding is meagre 43% or 44%.” “In private healthcare facilities, it is believed that when a mother has had a C-section, she cannot breastfeed. However people who have learnt the art of helping mother’s breastfeed can help these women breastfeed. C-section is just a mode of delivery, mothers can breastfeed while lying down,” he added.

Dr Arun Kumar also said: “Another factor is the introduction of formula feeding, either powder or liquid. Only 54% mothers are able to do exclusive breastfeeding and their number drops from, 70 to 80% in the first month to 40% in the fifth month. So in cases of six-month-old babies, just four out of ten mothers are breastfeeding exclusively.”

India had enacted national legislation on Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act (IMS Act) 1992, and Amendment Act 2003, to ensure accurate information to all women and control the marketing of substitutes. However, the BPNI has stated that despite there being a criminal law, violations are rampant.

BPNI has requested the Indian Government to accelerate the implementation of Ministry of Health and Family welfare’s (MoHFW) “Mother’s Absolute Affection -MAA Programme” by setting up national and state-level technical support units. They also want support staff in every maternity facility to support pregnant and lactating mothers. The BPNI wants the National Disaster Management Authority and the MoHFW to prepare a convergent plan of action to address infant feeding during disasters, which includes lactation support staff, as a part of rapid response, rather than rushing commercial baby foods to the site of disasters.

While the BPNI focuses on the lack of support by maternity hospitals to the breastfeeding mothers, Fortis La Femme, Delhi’s specialised hospital for women and newborns in collaboration with the Breast Milk Foundation, a non-profit organisation, established the first Pasteurised Human Milk Bank, “Amaara” in 2016 in Delhi-NCR. Amaara helps the mothers who are unable to breastfeed.

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