The slogan for World Breastfeeding Week 2018 is Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life.

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It is true that the best start to life would be a fully breastfed child. Optimal breastfeeding helps prevent malnutrition in all its forms with positive lifelong effects on both children and mothers. Breast milk with all its benefits is the cornerstone of a child’s development, and is also the foundation of a country’s development.

World breastfeeding week is celebrated in the first week of August since 1991 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). World-wide this week is observed in order to promote, encourage, support and galvanise the breastfeeding initiative.

Why should we observe a World breastfeeding week in India?

In a country like ours where breastfeeding has been considered natural and is promoted culturally, obstacles still exist. Less than 50% mothers initiate breastfeeding within an hour. 55% mothers discontinue breastfeeding within 1 year of delivery due to various reasons. The acceptance of breastfeeding in public places is still poor and considered taboo and “disgusting”. There are sects of women who do not want to breastfeed due to concerns about body image. But mostly, lack of guidance to new mothers leading to wrong latching and subsequent nipple cracks, mastitis (infection of the breasts), and breast abscesses defeat the purpose.

What are the standard international recommendations?

WHO and UNICEF recommend early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond,

and introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months.

Breastfeeding is the best for the mother and baby

Breastfeeding is very convenient and eco-friendly

No matter where a woman is travelling or working, breastfeeding offers a clean, sterile, zero-plastic and zero-waste method of infant feeding. All that requires is the availability of a private room with an appropriate arm chair and may be a rest room with nappy changing facilities.

Breastfeeding is nutritive

There is no doubt that mother’s milk is the most suitable nutrition for her infant. The ratio of protein, water and other enzymes are perfect to that baby. Also colostrum (early milk) provides with vital antibodies required to boost the baby’s immunity.  Breastfeeding is known to improve short and long term outcomes for the baby in terms of enhanced immunity, decreasing risk and severity of diarrhoea, respiratory infections, dental caries and malocclusion and in increasing intelligence.

Breastfeeding is great for the mother too

The breastfeeding for a minimum period of 1 year helps her lose all the extra fat gained in pregnancy and brings her back to her pre-pregnancy weight. There is also a rapid return of the uterus to its prepregnant state. This also helps in birth spacing and decreases the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and lowers the risk of diabetes and hypertension.

What about formula feeds?

In comparison to breastfeeding, formula feeds are known to increase the risk of obesity, childhood atopy and asthma, type 1 and 2 diabetes. Once the infant gets used to formula, he/she may refuse breast milk. Infant bottles may lead on to malocclusion of teeth and dental caries. However, in situations where the mother is unable to feed or the lactation is insufficient, formula feeds would become imperative for the infant.

Promoting breastfeeding is everyone’s responsibility

At the local level, doctors and family can facilitate this process of “let down, latch, and moving milk” by encouraging immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth, followed by feeding on demand and “rooming in,” keeping the mother and infant together during the postpartum stay. There are many initiatives at various levels to encourage and promote breastfeeding. Private spaces in public places for breastfeeding have been initiated.

Let’s all come together to make our mothers and children healthy and pledge to promote and support breastfeeding.