The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, shows that nearly one lakh children die in India every year due to pneumonia and diarrhoea.

The report further highlights that the deaths could have been prevented through early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, which helps in preventing ‘under-nutrition’ in children. Globally, 45 per cent of under-five deaths can be attributed to under-nutrition. In India, this figure is 50 per cent.

Breast milk contains all the necessary nutrients in the right proportion. It builds immunity and protects the child against certain diseases. And this is in addition to being a cost-effective and efficient intervention that promotes child survival, improves health and the overall growth and development of the child.

It also helps in planning a family more naturally, even as its early initiation helps in prevention of post-partum haemorrhage. In India, only 55 per cent of children are breastfed in their first six months of life.

The recent Maternity Benefit Amendment Act that increased maternity paid leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks is a huge initiative that can address the challenge faced by many working mothers.

While the government has made giant strides in promoting breastfeeding and alleviating malnutrition through several initiatives, we, as a country, still need to improve the breastfeeding rate.

There is low awareness amongst both the rural and urban population on the essentials and best practices related to childbirth. Traditionally in India, it is the women who are considered responsible for child care. We need to understand that men need to be equally responsible for the well-being of the child. At the time of childbirth, women are in no position to take decisions and it is their husbands who should play a critical role by understanding the health requirement of the mother and the newborn. There is an urgent need for creating awareness and providing substantial information to would-be parents on maternal and child health and nutrition.

A shot at a healthier life

Being the key influencers, it is essential that the husbands, along with the family members, provide adequate support to pregnant women and nursing mothers and help them adopt and adhere to appropriate health practices.

The support needs to start from the antenatal period in the form of breast examination to ensure women are in a better position to breastfeed immediately after the birth of the baby. There is also a need for continuous reinforcement of messaging to discard pre-lacteals and breastfeed substitutes. Healthcare providers, both public and private, play a crucial role in bridging the knowledge gap among the masses. Breastfeeding is part of Universal Healthcare as it gives every child a shot at a healthier life. Which is why health workers and doctors at the grassroot and urban settings need to work together to counsel people and create awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

The ongoing World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to sensitise all stakeholders to the significance of breast milk, and engage them in the drive.

The writer is Principal, Public Health and Government Solutions, IQVIA (South Asia). IQVIA is a technology-driven healthcare service provider