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Breast-feeding needs to be protected, promoted

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Anayat Nazir Najar
What is World Breastfeeding Week?
Every year the world marks Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to August 7. It is celebrated to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and other organisations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
Why is Breastfeeding Important?
Breastfeeding and the use of human milk are considered the best choice for the health of the baby and have many benefits to the mother as well. Mothers should always be supported to breastfeed in a way that best serves them and their families.
Breast milk is uniquely tailored for each baby and is nutrient-rich with pre-biotics, antibodies, enzymes, and the perfect amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates for growth and development. Breastfeeding protects and improves the health of an infant in many ways.
World Health Organisation recommends initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of the birth of a child. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for up to six months.
WHO and UNICEF state that breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Not just babies, breastfeeding is also beneficial for women, WHO says that women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
History of Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week dates back to 1979 when WHO started a battle against baby foods being promoted in the market, and brands interfering in breastfeeding in hospitals. Globally, it was noticed that powdered milk formula had a negative impact on the health of children and something needed to be done. In 1990, agencies and lawmakers got inspired by breastfeeding movement and signed Innocenti Declaration. Since 2016, World Breastfeeding Week is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2018, a World Health Assembly resolution endorsed World Breastfeeding Week as an important breastfeeding promotion strategy.
How to protect and promote Breastfeeding
WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. The NFHS-5 data shows improvement in exclusive breastfeeding with 16 states and UTs reporting a rise. To further promote early initiation of breastfeeding, and exclusive breastfeeding for up to months, Ms Varghese suggests practising inclusion of a birth companion for the woman in the labour room, coupled with the ‘zero separation’ policy – which mandates the new born to be put between the breast immediately after birth.
Statistical Data of Breastfeeding
Only 41.6% of babies are breastfed within an hour of being born, despite 79% of women delivering in a healthcare institution, a report released by UNICEF on 5 August 2021 said.
The report said that about 95% children in India were breastfed at some point in their early years.
“The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicates that 54.9% children are exclusively breastfed and exclusive breastfeeding is on an average for 2.9 months. Use of water and other fluids is one of the main reasons for discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding,” UNICEF said in a statement. The study found that globally every year approximately 7.6 million babies were not breastfed.
The benefits of breast milk for child
1. Breast milk contains all the necessary ingredients that the child needs in the first 4-6 months of life.
2. Breast milk contains the suitable proteins and fats to satisfy the natural needs of the child.
3. There are higher quantities of lactose in breast milk than other types of milk, as this is what is needed by the child.
4. There are enough vitamins in the breast milk, ensuring that no extra vitamins or fruit juices are needed.
5. The iron in breast milk is enough for the child. Even though the levels are not very high, the child’s ability to absorb the necessary amount is very good.
6. Breast milk contains enough water for the child, even if one lives in a dry climate.
7. Breast milk contains enough salt, calcium and phosphate for the child
8. Breast milk contains the enzyme lipase that digests fats.
9. The breastfed child is less susceptible to infections due to increased immunity.
10. Breast milk is the most important protector against two main causes of death among children: diarrhetic illnesses and respiratory infections.
11. Being breastfed reduces illnesses resulting from allergies such as asthma, eczema, etc, and helps prevent or reduce some diseases when the child is in the teenage years and above.
Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother
• Decreased postpartum bleeding. Her uterus more quickly returning to pre-pregnancy size
• Decreased menstrual blood loss and increased child spacing (lactational amenorrhea)
• Earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight
• Decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers
Benefits to the mother are striking after 12 months of cumulative breastfeeding.
These benefits include:
• 4-12% decrease in type 2 diabetes for each year the mother breastfed
• With a cumulative breastfeeding duration of 12 months to 24 months, the mothers risk of rheumatoid arthritis risk was 20% and 50% respectively
• Cumulative breastfeeding duration of longer than 12 months leaves a 28% reduction in breast cancer
• And 28% reduction in ovarian cancer for 12 months or longer
• Cardiovascular disease risk goes down 10%, hypertension does down 11% and hyperlipidaemiaby 19% with a cumulative 12-23 months of breastfeeding
Islamic views on Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is very clearly encouraged in the Qur’an:
“Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term” (2:233). Also, in reminding people to treat their parents with kindness, the Qur’an says:
“His mother carried him, in weakness upon weakness, and his period of weaning is two years” (31:14). In a similar verse, Allah says: “His mother carried him with hardship, and gave birth to him in hardship. And the carrying of the child to his weaning is a period of thirty months” (46:15).
Therefore, Islam strongly recommends breastfeeding but recognizes that for various reasons, parents may be unable or unwilling to complete the recommended two years. The decision about breastfeeding and the time of weaning is expected to be a mutual decision by both parents, in consideration of what is best for their family.
It is narrated by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):
“For a child, there is no milk better than the milk of the mother.”
Economic Benefits
Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months would save 13 billion per year in the health care system (NOT accounting for parenting missing work or health care costs in adults due to diseases that came on in childhood)
Can COVID-19 positive mother breastfeed her baby?
A COVID-19 positive mother should continue to breastfeed her baby but is advised to keep the infant at a distance of six feet from her the rest of the time, a senior doctor has said. Dr Manju Puri, Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi, also said there is no evidence to support the concerns about the foetus contracting COVID-19 from the mother, but stressed that pregnant women must take all possible precautions to prevent the infection.
Making a Choice
Deciding how you will feed your baby can be a hard decision. You’ll really only know the right choice for your family when your baby comes.
(The author holds a Masters in Library & Information Sciences, Masters in Urdu and B.Ed.)



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