World Breastfeeding Week, observed annually during the first week of August, draws attention to a practise which serves as a major health boon for both mother and child.
“It is the responsibility of every mother to breastfeed as it has numerous health benefits for both mother [and] child,” tweeted Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, adding “Breastfeeding is a child’s first inoculation against life-threatening diseases. Optimal breastfeeding can avert child deaths. It enhances the cognitive [and] motor development of a child.”
Indeed, “breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), noting that “Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by [the] WHO as the perfect food for the newborn.” As such, the WHO advises “exclusive breastfeeding…up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding, India has a mixed track record when it comes to breastfeeding. Despite guidelines which say that a newborn should be breastfed within the first hour of their birth, this is true for a mere 41.5 percent of Indian newborns as was reported last year by the WHO and UNICEF. Breastfeeding rates have increased in India, including early initiation – this is in no small part due to initiatives such as ‘baby-friendly hospitals’, aiming to increase breastfeeding rates. Nonetheless, the country still has a long way to go.
UNICEF’s scorecard for India on breastfeeding “reflects the absence of an ‘enabling environment’ for breastfeeding, with inadequate donor funding for breastfeeding programs; the absence of ‘baby-friendly hospitals’ and maternities; and inadequate legislation providing for maternity leave of at least twelve weeks””, as Health Issues India reported last year. Better breastfeeding practices could save the lives of almost 100,000 Indian children every year and could reap savings to the national exchequer of US$14 billion through the benefits to health.
With all this in mind, it is vital that India pays attention to the messages imparted during World Breastfeeding Week, highlighting the importance of the practice and why it is so imperative to improving maternal and infant health. India has much to gain from this, both socially and financially; making sure that awareness