Benefits of Breastfeeding
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year in the first week of August. This is an awareness campaign, carried out by UNICEF, along with the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, which was established in 1991 these two institutions introduced world breastfeeding week to promote awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Medical experts have established that early breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to protect both the mother and the child. And promote their health and their healthy growth, and ensure the optimal development of the child. Breastfeeding is considered to be very critical beginning right from the first hour of birth. And institutions like UNICEF suggest that a child should be exclusively breastfed for at least six months following which breastfeeding should continue for at least two years, along with the combination of solid food and semi-solid food.
Research has established, the benefits of breastfeeding to both the child and the mother. It’s a fact that breastfeeding provides greater immunity for children against infections, allergies, and even helps them fight cancer, obesity and other non-communicable diseases in their adulthood. Breast milk plays a key role in the brain maturation of the child and the development of the brain, and as well as the overall physical growth of the child. It is also equally beneficial for the mother, as it promotes faster weight loss after birth and reduces postpartum bleeding, and even protects the mother against breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. It is even set to help mothers overcome postpartum depression.
Risk Posed by Decline Decline Breastfeeding
However, despite these proven benefits. We have noticed a major decline in breastfeeding in India and around the world. Studies conducted by UNICEF shows that breastfeeding has declined, and hardly around 35 to 40% of the children are being breastfed around the world. This decline in breastfeeding dates back to the 17th century, because the renascence period, led to the introduction of feeding bottles, and even formula milk, which was aggressively marketed by private companies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This led to false advertising and campaigning, which made breastfeeding unfashionable and by the 19th century, we had witnessed a major decline in breastfeeding.
Later studies have established a correlation between this decline in breastfeeding and a matching increase in infant mortality rate, and as well as the occurrence of non-communicable diseases, once a child reaches adulthood.
These studies lead governments around the world, and global institutions to wake up to the threat from the middle of the 20th century. And then they started embarking upon awareness campaigns to promote breastfeeding by highlighting its benefits to both the child and the mother. This is what led to the establishment of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action in 1991 collaboration with UNICEF, they launched World Breastfeeding Week, which is marked every year in the first week of August.
In India, we have witnessed a major increase in the replacement of breast milk with formula milk. Hence to regulate these substitutes, India, enacted a law in 1992, known as the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act. This Act is provided for the stringent regulation of these products. But with the widespread usage and consumption of these products breastfeeding has declined.
Data from the National Family Health Survey file has shown a major decline in breastfeeding, at least in 12 states and union territories. For a low to a middle-income country like India, it can’t afford such a major decline in breastfeeding, as it will directly contribute to increased disease burden, due to the poor health of children, and as well as adults.
To promote breastfeeding, we should focus not just on awareness campaigns, which are run for few days, a few weeks, but we need to come up with more long term sustainable solutions. In today’s busy world, one of the major inhibiting factors, about breastfeeding is the lack of time available to parents, that is both the mother and the father. So legal changes about maternity leave and paternity leave is need of the hour.
Currently, in India, companies are mandated to provide metadata leave of six months, which happens to be one of the highest, even when compared to several developed nations. But unfortunately in India, paternity leave, is just for a few days, and the law allows for paternity leave of only 15 days, but most companies provide paternity leaves of just five days. With a few exceptions here and there, where a company policy provides for longer paternity leads
Role of Father and Mother in Promoting Breastfeeding
So in this context, it’s very important to understand the role of both the father and the mother in promoting breastfeeding, and it is very important to promote the inclusion of the Father in raising the child.
India’s patriarchal society ensures that fathers play a very minimal role, whereas the entire burden of child-raising is shifted to the mother. This is accompanied by the lack of time, and the work pressure pushes women to adopt formula milk and alternatives in the place of breast milk.
A solution to this lies in our maternity and paternity leave policies and calls for increasing maternity leave to at least 12 months, which is provided in few progressive countries are completed with a paternity leave of at least 12 to 16 weeks, which would allow the Father as well to play a role in raising the child, and in taking the load away from the mother.
The promotion of breastfeeding should be a continuous process and not just an event that is restricted to a week and such initiatives will have to be taken forward throughout the year to make it a continuous campaign.