The benefits of breastfeeding

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: This article explains the various advantages associated with breastfeeding and suggestions to improve it.

Synopsis:

The promotion of breastfeeding should be a continuous process, not an event restricted to a week.

Introduction:

UNICEF states that “breastfeeding is among the most effective ways to protect maternally and child health and promote healthy growth and optimal development in early childhood.”

About breastfeeding globally:

  1. During the Renaissance period, breastfeeding came to be seen as unfashionable. Feeding bottles and formula milk were aggressively advertised leading to a reduction in breastfeeding between the 17th and 19th centuries.
  2. However, during the late 19th century, an increase in infant mortality rate and a rise in non-communicable diseases during adulthood were attributed to bottle feeding.
  3. This prompted experts and leaders everywhere to push for breastfeeding across the world.
  4. The advantages of breast milk are evidence-based, yet globally only 25%-40% of babies are breastfed.
  5. The National Family Health Survey-5 data show that there has been a decline in early breastfeeding in as many as 12 of the 22 surveyed States and Union Territories while the share of institutional births has increased.
Breastfeeding timeline:

Infants should be breastfed within one hour of birth, breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives, and be breastfed after six months in combination with solid, semi-solid and soft food until they are about two years old.

Advantages of breastfeeding:
  • Breastfeeding provides greater immunity for children against infection, allergies, cancers and obesity; and improves brain maturation.
  • It is also beneficial for the mother: it promotes faster weight loss after birth, reduces postpartum bleeding, and protects her against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis.
  • Data from The Lancet show that more investment in breastfeeding could add $300 billion to the global economy and prevent about 8,20,000 child deaths every year.
Initiatives to promote breastfeeding
  1. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) was established in 1991 to create awareness about the importance of breastfeeding.
  2. In 1992, WABA in coordination with UNICEF introduced World Breastfeeding Week during the first week of August every year.
  3. India enacted the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act in 1992 with stringent regulations.
Steps to improve breastfeeding in India:
  • Governments must allocate specific funds, rigorously implement the law, invest in educating parents and health workers and involve civil society organisations and the media in spreading awareness.
  • The government can establish breast milk banks in various parts of the country.
  • The government can provide lactating mothers with subsidised breast milk pump equipment, and setting up exclusive facilities to breastfeed will prove to be beneficial for breastfeeding.
  • Both the mother and newborn are vulnerable for the first 12 weeks. Therefore, assistance from the partner is indispensable during this time. However, Indian law only allows for 15 days of paternity leave. It is imperative to extend this to 12-16 weeks.
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