Hey baby, you’ve got competition!

In India 75 percent of mothers fail to participate in the early initiation of breast feeding.

Ankita Chakrabarty/ Zee Research Group

Indian newborn babies are at a higher risk of being unhealthy, thanks to their mothers, about 75 percent of who fail to participate in the early initiation of breast feeding. This puts India at a disadvantage as against its peer nations in the region where breast feeding is the preferred norm.

While there is no single dominant reason behind women generally shying away from their new-born, among the factors influencing the decision cited by experts included lack of privacy at work place, low family support, and an ill-advised domestic prescription against breast feeding.

According to the State of the World’s Children report 2012, as against India’s one fourth women population breast feeding their kids, neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal fared much better. Bangladesh tops the charts with about 43 percent of mothers initiating breast feeding practices followed by Nepal at 35 and Pakistan at 29 percent respectively.

Exclusive breastfeeding refers to giving only breast milk and nothing else (not even water) and is the recommended practice for the first six months after birth of the child. As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS III-2005-06), only 46 percent of babies less than six months of age are exclusively breastfed while another 22 percent of them received water in addition to breast milk in India.

What should ring alarm bells is that only 55 percent of the new-born are breastfed within 24 hours of birth in the country. Also, due to lack of proper awareness, only 57 percent of babies in (6-9 months age group) are breastfed along with complimentary food.

Expressing deep concern over the issue, Anika Puri, maternity head, Fortis Hospital, Delhi said, “Many women do not find it easy to breast feed. It is extremely important that every woman should go for antenatal checkups during pregnancy which is not being followed by most of the women and also most of the doctors do not conduct it at regular intervals. Antenatal checkups at early stage help to detect the breast shape and size of the nipples and if any abnormality found, it can be rectified at an early stage.”

Bringing in the social perspective, Dr Sunil Mehra, executive director at Mamta, a maternal health focus NGO said, “The relevance of breast feeding in India at the household level has not percolated effectively. Our South Asian neighbors have fared well as they have been successful in communitising health practices. In India, key elements of child health and pregnancy have not been well entrenched in the community response.”

Emphasizing on promoting the mother–baby bond, Puri at Fortis added, “A lot of families complain that the mother is not able to produce sufficient milk and hence the mother’s milk is not sufficient to meet the appetite of the baby. Actually this situation arises when the baby is not given skin to skin contact.”

Seeking a change in the office environment for working women who just got kids, Dr Vandana Kent, senior consultant pediatrician at Rockland Hospital, Delhi advises, “It is high time that the office environment should become baby friendly and they should adopt certain strategies to help the lactating mothers.”

Highlighting the importance of awareness to promote breast feeding, Dr Mehra at Mamta said, “Good communication plan is required to promote breast feeding across stakeholder groups including the peer group of the mother.”

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