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Introducing BFHI Concepts to Adolescents
- Dr. Sailesh Gupta MD DCH.

Importance of Breastfeeding

Amongst all child survival strategies (Growth monitoring, Oral rehydration solution, breastfeeding, immunization, fertility control, female literacy and food supplementation) breastfeeding is the easiest to implement. This strategy is linked to all other strategies, and becomes operational the very moment a child is born. It can be implemented in homes, and requires nothing more than commitment, creating awareness and counseling. In terms of spending, breastfeeding promotion would require the least allocation of funds, but would have far reaching effects on the health of children. The community as a whole must understand this basic reality and be responsible in ensuring that all mothers be supported in adopting correct infant feeding practices, which very simply would translate into exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding along with appropriate home made foods, for a minimum period of two years.

Breastfeeding Promotion

All sections of society are responsible for promotion of breastfeeding, providing support to mothers for breastfeeding, and protection of breastfeeding from the effects of commercial promotion of breastmilk substitutes. While policy makers need to allocate adequate funds for this cause, the medical and paramedical fraternity should promote the concept of exclusive breastfeeding, and discourage bottle-feeding. Breastfeeding awareness or sensitization must begin in the antenatal period when expectant mothers are most receptive to suggestions that are directed to the health of their babies. This could be achieved through individual and group counseling sessions conducted in private and state run maternity facilities by doctors, nurses, medial social workers or trained mother - support workers. It is now realized that breastfeeding sensitization must begin even before a woman gets pregnant, indeed when she is an adolescent. The idea is to ‘catch them young’ before they are exposed to negative market forces.

Why talk to Adolescents

Adolescence is a period of exploration and awareness of one’s body, mind, intellect, emotions, desires, hopes, ambitions and goals in life. Even though it is a twilight period of confusion and unclear concepts, it is marked by a sharp increase in receptiveness, and eagerness to learn and imbibe all that is new and interesting. This is also a period of rumination about one’s priorities, career goals, and family life. This is a period when experiences, both negative and positive, counsel, both wise and unwise and education, both good and bad would make a deep impact on an individual’s future. Adolescents and the youth need direction; they need to be made aware of their rights; they need to be made aware of what is politically correct in today’s context; they need to be made productive, self – sufficient, reliable, well – adjusted and happy individuals. Adults, educationists, and leaders owe it to them. Adolescent girls must be made aware of their fundamental right to choose the best manner of nourishing their future children. With increase in teen pregnancy, it becomes imperative that adolescents be addressed with regards to parenting and childcare issues. Infant feeding practices could be combined with sex education, birth control, family planning and HIV / AIDS to make the curriculum wholesome, relevant, and appealing to adolescents.

Infant Feeding Situation in the Country

Despite the efforts of NGOs, Unicef and the Government for many years, prevalent wrong Infant feeding practices continue to affect infant and child mortality and morbidity in our country. The latest National Family Health Survey (1998 – 99) shows that intitiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth occurs in only 16 % of cases and only 37% mothers start breastfeeding within 24 hours after birth. Colostrum is discarded by nearly 2/3rd of women, especially in rural areas. While the percentage of exclusively breastfed infants at 1 month is 72, it drops to 43 at 3 months and 19 at 6 months. It is found that 15% of mothers introduce complementary foods before the infant is three months old. A study by the breastfeeding and lactation management committee of IAP in 2001 showed that only 24% of women initiated breastfeeding within a half hour of delivery, and a good 16.6% did not initiate breastfeeding within the first 24 hours. These data are alarming, and are the result of many factors, one of which is the failure of the medical fraternity and policy makers to bring about a behavioral change in the attitudes and practices of the general community with regard to infant feeding.

How to Initiate Programs for adolescents

Breastfeeding education in schools and colleges is a relatively new concept and may not find easy acceptance with authorities that may view this education as unnecessary and an additional burden. While introduction of such knowledge into the main curriculum of some college courses would require continued effort on the part of breastfeeding promoters, such knowledge can be imparted in the manner of a co-curriculum, that mandates attendance, but not examination. School and college authorities would have to be taken into confidence through repeated meetings, discussion of breastfeeding situation, child mortality and morbidity statistics, and sharing of relevant literature. They would require persuasion to organize teaching sessions. Once consent is obtained, informal / formal teaching (sensitization) sessions could be organized in schools / colleges where students of both sexes participate, with sharing of views and information between students and faculty. The subject could be divided into three to four sessions and presented in a simple and straightforward manner. Information that is relevant, important, and appropriate to the age of the audience should be given. Excess and irrelevant information could be counter - productive. All queries should be answered in the best possible manner.

The above strategy would relate to adolescents receiving formal education. However, the method employed for sensitizing adolescents who do not attend a school would be different. It is important to educate this vulnerable group of adolescents who receive their knowledge of family life and parenting from their families, friends, and whatever they gather from images in the information media.

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Disclaimer: All material provided at is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation.