A social responsibility
India is on the road to becoming one of the
leading nations of the world, in terms of economic
liberalisation, politics of democracy, nuclear
capability, information technology, advances
in medical science, and recognition of the mental
and technical capabilities of its scientists.
India also has the dubious distinction of belonging
to the billion-population club, and of having
one of the highest infant mortality rates in
the world, which stands at 69, as compared to
7.1 in US, and 4.3 in Japan. India contributes
to 40 per cent of the malnourished-child population
in the world, and 53 per cent of all Indian
children under the age of four years are undernourished.
Among the many causes of the sorry state of
health of our children are poverty, illiteracy,
large family size, inadequate implementation
of health and family planning policies, inadequate
health infrastructure, ignorance of parents
regarding child nutrition (including breastfeeding),
unethical promotion of artificial milk and cereals,
and the apathetic attitude of health professionals
and health workers towards patient and community
UNICEF estimates that the world over, 1.5 million
infants die every year, of diarrhoea, directly
related to bottle-feeding. In India, in spite
of oral dehydration treatment and antibiotics
(where necessary), diarrhoea continues to be
an important cause of infant mortality. Added
to this are deaths due to acute respiratory
infections and asthma.
These are the result of artificial feeding
(animal milk or powder milk) and bottle-feeding.
Studies by organisations like, UNICEF, WHO,
BPNI (Breastfeeding promotion
network of India) and ACASH (Association for
consumers' action on safety and health) have
shown that breastfeeding rates have declined
in our community (all sections) and that bottle-feeding
and formula feeding have increased tremendously.
In addition to the various reasons mentioned
above, an important reason is the impact of
the audio-visual and the print media that glorify
artificial feeding. If breastfeeding were promoted
and advocated, millions of infants would be
saved from death and malnutrition.
There is no doubt about the fact that nature
provided mammals with breast milk to nourish
their newborns. Each mammal's milk is specifically
designed to complete the needs of its infant,
which is true for human infant too.
A human infant's nutritional (growth), immunological
(anti-infective), mental (brain development)
and emotional (bonding) needs are entirely met
with, by mother's milk. Colostrum, which is
the sticky discharge produced by breasts immediately
after delivery of the baby contains immunoglobulins
and anti-infective cells that provide a newborn
cover against most common infections and allergies.
Colostrum is discarded in many communities,
which is a wrong and harmful practice.
Mature milk that comes-in anytime between the
second and the seventh day takes care of an
infant's hunger, as well as thirst, which comprises
of water to the extent of 95 per cent.
Thus an infant needs nothing (including water,
vitamins, extra milk, liquid diet, ayurvedic
preparations etc) except breastmilk for the
first six months of his life. Anything besides
breastmilk given to the infant may prove to
be harmful. The proteins
in breastmilk ensure optimal growth, the fats
are just right (obviating the risk of heart
disease in later life that is associated with
animal milk), and the lactose provides energy,
as well as ensuring optimal brain development,
as does the aminoacid Taurine.
Breastfed children have been found on an average,
to score higher on intelligence tests than non-breastfed
children, and they fare better in school. This
is due in a large measure to the emotional bonding
and security that arises out of the closeness
of a mother and her baby while breastfeeding.
Factually, breastfeeding binds the whole family
together. Breastmilk also provides adequate
vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus
and iron, for an infant's development.
Breastfeeding costs a family next to nothing.
As breastmilk is produced at the mother's expense,
even an undernourished mother produces enough
to satisfy her infant's needs. A mother who
breastfeeds, needs hardly any extra nourishment.
Except, if she is a poor and undernourished
mother (to replace her depleting reserves).
The fat that accumulates during the nine months
of pregnancy is lost by breastfeeding. The other
benefits that a mother derives from breastfeeding
Reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers
Early stoppage of post delivery blood loss
Reduced risk of anaemia and osteoporosis
The feeling of confidence that arises from being
a nourisher, provider and protector.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a good method of family
planning too, as the high Prolactin hormone levels
in a lactating mother's blood reduces her fertility
for the first few months after delivery.
Bottle-feeding predisposes an infant to
Acute and persistent diarrhoea
Respiratory tract infections
Respiratory and skin allergies
Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
Atherosclerotic heart disease.
Artificial feeding is an enormous strain on the
mother and the family, in terms of money, energy
and time, not to mention the cost of medical treatment
of illnesses caused by bottle-feeding. A mother
who does not breastfeed runs the risk of getting
pregnant again very soon. Poor mothers dilute
the formula in order to economise, and end up
with undernourished and ill infants.
Breastmilk is without doubt the best start
in life that a human infant can receive. It
is the responsibility of all sections of society
to ensure that every mother breastfeeds her
infant exclusively for six months, and then
continues to breastfeed for as long as possible,
along with other foods.
This responsibility rests on the government,
political leaders, the municipal corporation,
maternity facilities, doctors, nurses, social
workers, women's organisations, religious leaders,
women's employers and the common man.
Left to their own devices all mothers wish
to breastfeed. They need support in the form
of correct information, help in initiating breastfeeding,
moral and physical support from their family
and healthcare providers, and adequate breastfeeding
leave from their workplace. Breastfeeding is
a mother's right. Her right must be respected
and protected by the state.