'No substitute for breastfeeding'

Tradition and science have both unequivocally established that for the physical, mental, psychological and emotional growth of the child, there is no substitute for breastfeeding.

However at times due to inability of the mother or often due to her ignorance about the seminal role of breastfeed, many children not only are deprived of the right nature has conferred on them but also rendered deficient in their constitution besides their susceptibility to plethora of diseases in short and long run.

Unicef estimates that hardly a third of the 136 million babies born worldwide are exclusively breastfed in the first six months as strongly advocated by the health and nutrition experts including World Health Organisation (WHO).

To enhance awareness about the multiple advantages of breastfeeding accruing both to the baby and the mother, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), in collaboration with Unicef organises World Breastfeeding Week during first week of August (1-7) in more than 170 countries, this year's theme being, ‘A winning goal for life’.

 The UN strategy to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies globally began with Innocenti Declaration by WHO & Unicef in 1990. According to WHO, the vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed. Whenever it is difficult for an infant to have mother’s milk, the best choices is the expressed breast milk from infant’s own mother, or from a healthy wet-nurse.

Nutritious and healthy

The peer counselling strategy is a cost effective and highly productive way to reach a larger number of mothers more frequently. Several studies have established breast milk as the healthiest form of milk. Even after phased introduction of semi-solid and solid food after initial six months of exclusive breastfeeding, mothers are advised to continue for a year or two, even further.

WHO and the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) corroborate that the mother’s milk contains all the nutrients, calories and fluids that babies require for best development of its organs while formula foods doesn’t. That is why breastfed babies are less likely to have respiratory and vital infections like pneumonia, bronchitis as also diarrhoea and meningitis. Breastfeeding also helps coping with anaemia and protection of babies against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancers.

Breastfeeding has equally benign effects for health of the women: burning of unwanted calories in breastfeeding, restoration of uterus to pre-pregnancy (normal) size, strengthening of bones and reduced incidence of breast or ovarian and breast cancer.

In the backdrop of the multiple benefits of breastfeeding to both baby and mother, Article 24 of the Convention on Rights of the Child (CRC) emphasises that “governments are under an obligation to ensure an environment that empowers women to breastfeed their children if they choose to do so.

United Arab Emirates has gone a step further by making it mandatory for mothers to breastfeed their babies for two years except when unable to do so on medical grounds. Scientists at the University of Greenwich School of Science have shown that the “micro-nutrient content in ready-made baby meals contained less than a fifth of the recommended daily supply of calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and other minerals”.

Experts say, in India 41 per cent of infant deaths occurring in first month of life could be averted with breastfeed. In India, the breastfeeding promotion campaign is led by Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), an independent Wardha-based organization, Food & Nutrition Board under Ministry of Women and Child Development, and New Delhi-based Trained Nurses Association of India (TNAI), an apex body of nurse practitioners with branches in all States and UTs.

As an incentive to encourage child care by parents including breastfeeding, union government has already allowed two years child care leave (CCL) for ladies up to two children that can be availed anytime till the child is 18.

Considering father’s involvement in nurturance, serving husbands are also entitled to 15 days paternity leave. Since ladies are increasingly entering the work force in India, suitable provisions for non-government sector like sparing the working ladies to breastfeed their young ones have been made mandatory.

The myth of HIV transmission to infant via mother has been exploded by University of North Carolina School of Medicine, that breast milk has a strong virus killing effect and protects against oral transmission of HIV. More surprisingly, the senior author of the study J Victor Garcia believes that the traces from mother’s milk could be used to combat the HIV virus.

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