THRISSUR: At a time when Kerala is receiving global appreciation for its health index, the breastfeeding rate has come down in the state owing to a set of social and economic reasons. With the World Breastfeeding Week being observed from Sunday (August 1 to 7), a collective effort is under way by the state chapter of Indian Academy of Paediatricians (IAP) and the health department to revamp the Mother and Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative (MBFAHI) to promote breastfeeding.
Back in 2002, Unicef and WHO had given Kerala the title of the world’s first ‘baby-friendly state’, with the breastfeeding rates at 98%. Kerala’s success in reducing infant death and disease by encouraging natural methods and regulating baby food, feeding bottles and plastic teats had earned it global recognition.
However, the latest report of the National Family Health Survey indicates the breastfeeding rate in the state has dropped to 50.3% in urban and 59.5% in rural areas. Newborns breastfed within one hour of birth has also decreased to 66.7% in the state.
In an effort to improve the situation, the MBFAH initiative under the IAP, in association with the state government, gynaecologists’ association and nurses’ association, is organising training programmes to promote breastfeeding.
“So far, 16,000 nursing students in private institutions and 1,200 in government colleges have been trained. Two aspects are especially important for the better growth of child — breastfeeding within one hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months. Various aspects like maternity leave, economic background, influence of infant meals, and misunderstaning of concepts have affected the breastfeeding habit. An effective intervention at all levels will be made to improve the situation,” said Ananda Kesavan T M, chairman of MBFHI of IAP Kerala.
Experts suggest three steps to improve the breastfeeding rate — appointing Lactation Consultants in all major hospitals with a maternity wing, setting up breastfeeding rooms in public places like bus stands, railway station, etc., and strict regulations on Infant Milk Substitutes.
“Certification courses for Lactation Consultants will help new mothers continue breastfeeding despite the physical and mental stress related to it,” Anantha Kesavan added.