At a recent meeting in Bengaluru, I met an international delegate who had worked for a non-governmental organisation in Bihar and explained ground realities on increasing breastfeeding in the State. As I write this, I am concerned, “Kya hamara India swasth hai”? (Is our India healthy?)
The status of breastfeeding practices is far from satisfactory in India where the rate of initiation within one hour of birth, has declined in five years, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Breast milk is an elixir for all newborn babies since the beginning of time.
Rise in institutional births
Critical factors that contribute to low breastfeeding rates include the rise in institutional births. While giving birth in a medical institution under the supervision of trained health personnel is needed, it is important to go beyond just breastmilk and lactaction and understand the significance of the mechanics of breastfeeding that helps in the overall development of the baby.
Secondly, place of delivery and breastfeeding within one hour of birth matters, be it a government of private institution. And thirdly, type of delivery and breastfeeding within an hour of birth is key, be it normal birth or c-section.
Our unpublished data shows 95 per cent of exclusive breastfeeding rates have been possible with the availability and accessibility to patients of skilled and trained lactation consultants 24/7. Lactation consultants act as counsellors to improve understanding about breastfeeding, hygiene and bonding. It is important for new mothers to understand that breastfeeding is not a choice, it’s a responsibility.
Qualified lactational consultants
Unfortunately the availability of qualified lactational consultants is an issue in India. A decline in the ability of family members, neighbours and friends to help new parents overcome any breastfeeding problems successfully is also a challenge.
All women should have access to skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth to ensure prevention, detection and management of complications. Strategies to support exclusive breastfeeding should therefore address multiple factors including lack of knowledge, support and time within the household; insufficient support from health and nutrition programmes, maternity leave/ benefits, infant formula marketing/monitoring and more.
(The writers is Founder Chairman & Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. Views are personal.)