Nursing moms Note: There’s no substitute for Breast milk

The theme of the breastfeeding week this year aptly focuses on enabling and empowering parents.
Representational image
Representational image

The first week of August is celebrated as World Breastfeeding Week. Although this is the 27th year into its commemoration, breastfeeding statistics are hardly encouraging. In India, only 55 per cent of newborn babies are only breastfed, up to the age of six months. An even smaller number - 41 per cent - receives breast milk within one hour of birth, which is the golden hour and not be missed. I have commonly found that new mothers face various challenges initiating the natural feeding process, which should ideally be effortless. 

Breast milk is a unique assortment of hormones, antibodies and beneficial bacteria. The antibodies protect the baby against viruses and bacteria, which is why respiratory, allergic and gastric ailments are much lower in breastfed infants. To top all of this, the IQ of breastfed babies is noted to be several notches higher. Breast milk components also protect against behaviour and learning disorders. 

The milk is easily digestible, free from harmful components and available at the right temperature whenever needed. It is truly a unique food providing all the nutrients in the right proportions for the baby’s growth and development.

The benefits of breastfeeding are not just restricted to the child. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of cancer (breast, uterus and ovaries) and of Type 2 diabetes in the mother. A bonus is that the mother gets back to her pre-pregnancy weight much quicker.

It has been established that support from the family and skilled professionals is absolutely essential for successful breastfeeding. Practical solutions to problems encountered should be readily offered. The rise in the number of cesarean deliveries is only adding to the challenges. 

In these cases, mothers need additional guidance on colostrum expression, how to facilitate the baby to latch onto the breast, and so on. There is a pressing need to support these mothers so that they do not give up easily, which is a common tendency. Many women also begin to believe that they are not producing enough milk, hence resort to other means of feeding the baby. The fact is that almost all women are physically capable of doing so. 

Early and frequent feeding and responding to the baby’s cues help enable a good supply. Attending to this urgent need for breastfeeding education, the IITs have created digital content in the form of tutorials in many different Indian languages.

The theme of the breastfeeding week this year aptly focuses on enabling and empowering parents. Breastfeeding is no longer just about the mother but about the entire family. Yet another aspect of breastfeeding which may help highlight its significance is the high cost one pays for neglecting it. A recent study on the cost of not breastfeeding results in 100,000 deaths of preventable nature, 34.7 million diarrhea incidents, and 2.4 million pneumonia cases in just one year. 

This study also reports 40,382 obesity cases a year as a result of no breastfeeding. The reduction of risks is also of long-term nature, as for cardiovascular disease, which carries into adulthood. The health cost for all of this runs into several hundreds of crores. Is this not a price too high to be ignored? Protecting families of newborns from inaccurate and misleading information about milk substitutes is another helpful measure.

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The New Indian Express