KOCHI: As per a Unicef report, around 60 per cent of infants miss out on exclusive breastfeeding in the initial months. With World Breastfeeding Week being celebrated from August 1 to 7, the World Health Organisation aims to empower parents and enable breastfeeding to improve the health of babies across the globe.
According to the data collected by the United Nations globally in 2016, 155 million children under the age of five were estimated to be stunted and studies conducted by Unicef prove initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for the first six months of birth can reduce infant deaths and malnutrition among children.
Breast milk is the most essential and irreplaceable nutrition for the child's sensory and cognitive development. The survival of the child and his or health depends largely on the way they are fed. Moreover, it improves the health of mothers post-delivery.
"It is always advisable to breastfeed babies during the first six months. We recommend feeding, nothing additional if the baby is breastfed properly," said Dr Gracy Thomas, president of Cochin Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society (COGS).
"During the first three days after the delivery, mothers produce colostrum instead of milk. Feeding colostrum is the most necessary thing to do after childbirth as it helps increase the immunity of the baby, decreases neonatal and post-neonatal deaths," she said.
With increased awareness among the parents, the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding has increased in the state. According to the National Family Health Survey conducted in the state in 2017, 64.3 per cent of mothers in Kerala give breast milk within an hour. The rate was only 14 per cent in 1993, 43 per cent in 1999 and 55 per cent in 2006.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a very important source of energy and nutrients in children aged between six and 23 months as it reduces infant mortality due to diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Besides, unlike the myth around breastfeeding, it benefits the health of the mother too. It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer and has averted more than 20,000 maternal deaths each year.
"There is a misconception that breastfeeding results in loss of body shape (for the mother) but the fact is it helps regain the glow and reduce the weight gained during pregnancy," she added. Postpartem depression and hypertension can also be curbed by breastfeeding the baby.