Only half of the newborns in India are being breastfed within one hour of birth, said a recent report released by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The report — ‘From the first hour of life’ — mentioned that 77 million newborns still wait too long before being breastfed. The first milk does not only provide a strong immunity against infections but builds the necessary nutritional base for newborns.
“Early breastfeeding safeguards infants from the most vulnerable infections,” says the UNICEF report that has collected data from about 135 countries on breastfeeding practices. The report added that the rate of early breastfeeding had slowed down over the past 15 years, with global rates increasing by just 14 percentage points overall.
“In a subset of countries studied, nearly two out of five breastfed newborns were found to feed on liquid other than breast milk in the earliest days of life,” said the UNICEF report.
Citing numbers from India, the report adds that only 40-59% of newborns are put to the breast within an hour of birth. At the same time, 60-79% of infants in the age group of 0-5 months are exclusively breastfed. The toddlers were even found to be fed below the minimal suggested frequency with only 40-59% from the age group of 6-23 months following minimal meal frequency.
Neonatology experts from Mumbai said that the major cause of the delay could be attributed to the increasing number of childbirths through Caesarian sections. “After C-section, the mother is usually sedated and this restricts immediate breastfeeding,” said Dr Indu Khosla, consultant paediatrician and former president of Indian Academy of Paediatricians (IAP).
Experts said the delay or reluctance in breastfeeding in higher in urban areas as compared to rural areas. “There is a very small percentage of females, suffering from lactation issues than those who have psychological obstacles for not breastfeeding immediately. Some also feel that it may cause their body to disfigure and thus, refrain from breastfeeding for long,” said Dr Vijay Tuteja, co-founder of National Neonatology Forum, Mumbai.
What the Lancet study says
The 2003 landmark Lancet Child Survival Series ranked the top 15 preventive child survival interventions for their effectiveness in preventing under-five mortality. Exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age and breastfeeding up to 12 months (for the purpose of that study only) was ranked number one, with complementary feeding starting at six months at number three. These two interventions alone were estimated to prevent almost one-fifth of under-five mortality in developing countries.
Why is it important?
Pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete the stores of vitamins and minerals in a mother’s body, particularly iron folate, which is vital to a baby’s healthy development in the womb. Healthy birth spacing reduces the chance that a baby will be premature or underweight.
Breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices in infants and children 0–23 months old, In-depth analysis of the 2012 Comprehensive Nutrition Survey in the state of Maharashtra, India: Published in May 2016 issue of Maternal and child nutrition Journal.
Newborns put to the breast within one hour of birth in 2015 40: 59%
Infants 0-5 months of age exclusively breastfed in 2015: 60-79%
Children 12-15 months of age who are breast fed: >80%
Children 20-23 months of age who are breastfed: 60-79%
Infants 6-8 months of age fed solid, semi-solid or soft foods in 2015: 40-59%
Children 6-23 months of age with a minimum acceptable diet in 2015: < 20%
Children 6-23 months of age with the minimum diet diversity: 20-39%
Children 6-23 months of age with minimum meal frequency in 2015: 40-59%