Breastfeeding Week – Dr Hema Divakar calls for real action
Bengaluru: Emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, ARTIST for Her (Asian Research & Training Institute for Skill Transfer), in line with recommendations of various international institutions, has been successful in building capacities of 73 hospitals in Karnataka under ‘Manyata’, an ambitious initiative that brings together local health practitioners to improve their ability to deliver better, respectful and quality care services to pregnant mothers during and after childbirth.
Observing Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) is not just about creating awareness, but ensuring that breastfeeding becomes a protective and life-saving intervention by educating and training mothers. Working in this direction, ARTIST, has institutionalized the practice of educating and training mothers by imparting a whole module on breastfeeding to the staff of the 73 hospitals under Manyata in association with the Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI).
Renowned healthcare leader Dr. Hema Divakar, Chair of well woman healthcare committee at FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) & Chairperson, ARTIST, said, “Early and timely breastfeeding in the first hour of life can have profound benefits for both mother and baby. Breastfeeding helps provide colostrum to the newborn; it prevents newborn infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea. Sustained breastfeeding helps mothers in reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.” She was speaking today on “Think Breastfeeding First – A call to action for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists”, organized by the South Asian Federation of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (SAFOG).
In addition to Karnataka, ARTIST has been undertaking capacity building of hospitals under Manyata in 16 other states. “There are strong myths and barriers owing to which breastfeeding is not practiced properly. We must disseminate information on breastfeeding but educate mothers at every touchpoint in maternity hospitals. New mothers need to be convinced, trained, and guided; All the stakeholders of healthcare must join hands to ensure that breastfeeding is practiced, as advised,” added Dr. Hema, who is also the National Convener of Manyata.
According to Dr. Hema, there are several issues related to breastfeeding that need to be addressed effectively. For instance, mothers have to breastfeed newborns for 6 months, but not all organizations support 6 months of maternity leave for working women. Likewise, creating breastfeeding corners in public spaces is needed. “In addition, there is confusion about the storage of pumped breast milk. It is perfectly fine to store breast milk for use later. But there is not much education around this,” pointed out Dr. Hema.
There is also a dire need to set up breastmilk banks, which are still in a nascent stage in India. “There are some efforts, but we definitely need milk banks with contribution from new mothers. Babies, especially premature babies, will benefit immensely. But there is a cultural barrier to donating breastmilk. We need to overcome that by educating women, creating a network, which will collect and store it as prescribed,” added Dr. Hema.
Unless there is real action, observing “Breastfeeding Week” will not yield the desired results, as 40% of the newly born babies in India go without being breastfed in the first hour of birth due to ignorance about the significance of breastfeeding. According to FIGO, early initiation of breastfeeding works towards attaining the WHO Global Target of 2025 to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months to 50%, reduce low birth weight by 30%, reduce stunting by 40% and reduce and maintain childhood wasting at less than 5%.
Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, many countries have fallen short of achieving optimal early initiation of breastfeeding in the first hour of life. Globally, three in five babies are not breastfed in the first hour of life, which is an issue in high, middle, and low-income countries, including India, said Dr. Hema, quoting FIGO.
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