By Nithin Sridhar
“World Breastfeeding Week” is being celebrated throughout the world from 1-August till 7-August.
The practice of dedicating the first week of August to breastfeeding of children was started in 1992 by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and ever since it has been celebrated every year in collaboration with United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations and governments.
WABA was formed in 1991 with an aim to promote breastfeeding worldwide. Breastfeeding has a large number of benefits to both mothers and children. It being the natural method of providing nutrition to children, is better than other kinds of feeding like formula feeding, especially in early months. Breastfeeding is especially effective in fighting malnutrition problems in children under 5-years of age, especially in developing and under developed countries.
Breastfeeding prevents malnutrition in children under 5-years of age
Malnutrition is very much prevalent in India. According to NHFS 3 (2005-2006), 48% children of under 5-years are stunted, 19.8% of children are wasted (i.e. too thin with regard to their height) and 43% were underweight.
One of the best methods to fight malnutrition among under 5-years children is through breastfeeding. The Dadhich report quotes NHFS-3 statistics that show that the practice of breastfeeding the child within one hour of its birth is only 24.5% in India. The exclusive breastfeeding rates in children up to six months age is also just 46.4%.
If breastfeeding rates of both initiation within half or one hour of birth and exclusive feeding till 6 months are increased, there will be a definite decrease in malnutrition. The Dachich report illustrates the statistics from Lancet series to illustrate this. The Lancet series on child survival and new born survival has summarized that by achieving a 90% coverage in exclusive breastfeeding, around 13-15 percent of malnutrition deaths in under 5-years children, in the poor countries can be prevented.
Another report states: “Suboptimum breastfeeding, especially non-exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life, results in 1·4 million deaths and 10% of disease burden in children younger than 5 years.”
Therefore, India should attempt to double its exclusive breastfeeding rates, so that malnutrition can be effectively countered. Apart from fighting Malnutrition, breastfeeding has many health benefits for the babies as well.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is very vital for the growth of infants as they contain all the essential nutrients that are required by the baby. Ideally, the first breastfeed must be done within half an hour of the birth and exclusive breastfeeding must be carried out till the baby becomes 6-months old. Early initiation of breastfeeding is crucial as “colostrum” or the first milk contains various proteins, minerals, vitamins and antibodies that protects the child against diseases.
Breast milk is also easy to digest for the babies. Apart from this, breastfeeding helps to create a bond between the mother and the child and also reduces the risk of breast cancer in mothers.
Breastfeeding also affects childhood intelligence and adult health. Children who were breastfed in their childhood are better protected against obesity, hypertension, and diabetes in their adult life. Therefore, various medical organizations including the WHO advice people to practice breastfeeding.
In 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its member countries, while considering the reports submitted by India, advised India to: “Enhance efforts to promote exclusive breastfeeding practices, including breastfeeding from birth, complementary feeding strategies, with or without provisionof food supplements, as well as micronutrient interventions for mothers; ensure the effective implementation of, and compliance with, the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (WHO, 1981); put in place a monitoring and reporting system to identify violations of the Code and take stringent measures in all situations of violations of the Code, which include the promotion and distribution of infant formula samples and promotional materials by private-sector companies involved in the marketing and distribution of infant formula.”
Therefore, the government, NGOs and the people must join hands in promoting and supporting breastfeeding practices that will in-turn lead to a reduction in malnutrition among children.