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World Breastfeeding Week Special: Hospitals go ‘baby-friendly’ for newborns health

Breastfeeding newborns vital for health. Copyright: <a href=''>joytasa / 123RF Stock Photo</a>As part of our series highlighting the many issues that deter India from being a breastfeeding nation, today we bring a story of hope. Sixteen hospitals are working to usher in a change. Plans are being rolled out to turn the facilities in question ‘baby-friendly’ in a bid to improve the nutritional health of newborns.

To build up the enabling environment an alliance has been formed of sixteen healthcare providers in both the public and private sectors. These facilities will adopt the ten steps of successful breastfeeding, outlined by UNICEF and the WHO.

“Many issues…deter India from being a breastfeeding nation…sixteen hospitals are working to usher in a change”

The ten steps include recommendations such as ensuring staff and the families of newborns are aware of the importance of breastfeeding and counselling mothers on how to recognise and respond to their babies’ breastfeeding needs. The ten steps also encourage hospitals to take note of and “comply fully” with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Sometimes known as the WHO Code, it recommends that the marketing of breastmilk substitutes be restricted so that mothers are more likely to breastfeed than use infant formula and other substitutes.

Hospital compliance with the WHO Code is a necessity. Recent reports have surfaced of newborns being given formula in hospitals by medical professionals instead of skin-to-skin contact with their mother to feed. This sometimes occurs without the consent of their mother. Such incidents have even led to an online petition calling for a policy that would require hospitals to ask the mother’s permission before giving the child any breastmilk substitute. The petition gained more than 33,500 signatures by the end of July.

“Recents reports have surfaced of newborns being given formula in hospitals…instead of skin-to-skin contact with their mother to feed.”

India’s Global Breastfeeding Scorecard found that the country totally lacked ‘baby-friendly’ maternities and hospitals. This contributes to the lack of an ‘enabling environment’ to encourage mothers to breastfeed their children in line with recommendations from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Just 41.5 percent of India’s newborns are breastfed within the first hour of their birth.  Exclusive breastfeeding reaches just 55 percent of babies in the first six months of their life. Those who aren’t breastfed are deprived of access to the nutrients and antibodies abundant in breastmilk. These protect against a host of infectious and chronic diseases.

The news that hospitals are gearing up to be ‘baby-friendly’ and encourage breastfeeding is a positive sign and  experts’ claims about the health benefits of the practise are not falling on deaf ears. Breastfeeding is widely considered the best gift a mother can give their child early in life. It is vital that more hospitals and doctors countrywide take note of this reality.

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