Manipur has topped the list of states in breastfeeding, infant and young child feeding practises in the country, as per a report released by Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. Delhi, on the other hand, fared the worst.
The report has been developed with scores based on three indicators including early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complimentary feeding when the baby is six to eight months old.
Why is breastfeeding important?
Breastfeeding involves skin-to-skin contact, releasing oxytocin in the hormones and develops bonding between the mother and baby.
WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends that newborn babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Feeding a baby in the first hour after childbirth is essential because the first milk called colostrum contains antibodies that protect the baby from illness. Breastfeeding the baby lowers the risk of ear infection, asthma, diabetes, childhood leukaemia as well as sudden infant death syndrome.
Not just the baby, breastfeeding also lowers the risk of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in the mother since there are fewer menstrual cycles, reducing the level of estrogen and thereby the risk of cancer. It also reduces the risk of developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure as well as cardiovascular diseases.
Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding, India ranks the lowest in breastfeeding practices among South Asian countries. Only 44 per cent of women are able to breastfeed their newborn within an hour of birth and only 55 per cent of all babies born in India receive breast milk exclusively, within the first six months. Besides, breastfeeding in public continues to be a taboo, depriving children of breast milk when their mothers cannot feed them in public spaces due to lack of hygienic and clean spaces or people’s prejudices against it.
To raise more awareness about practice, more and more women are now asserting their rights as breastfeeding mothers and talking about its importance. Celebrity mothers like Neha Dhupia and Soha Ali Khan, for instance, recently took to social media to share their personal experiences of breastfeeding and the challenges in order to sensitise people.