By Dr Loveleena Nadir
World Breastfeeding Week 2019: As you may know, breastfeeding has its benefits for both the mother and the baby. Apart from developing a strong immune system in infants, breastfeeding has many other health benefits and prevents the child from chronic diseases. The repercussions of not breastfeeding infants could be detrimental to their health and well-being in the long term. There might be an increased incidence of infectious morbidity causing ear infections, chest or respiratory infections, tooth decay, gastroenteritis including diarrhoea or vomiting and pneumonia apart from problems of childhood obesity due to formula feed causing a risk of type 1 or type 2 diabetes, leukaemia and other dreaded diseases.
Infants who aren’t adequately breastfed may also experience higher rates of asthma and childhood wheezing. Breastfed infants are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Breastmilk contains hormones that help in regulating food intake. The total calorie intake is lower in breastfed infants and higher intake in infancy is associated with obesity in later childhood.
Not breastfeeding infants leads to a higher risk for mothers too! They may be susceptible to breast or ovarian cancer and there is substantial evidence to indicate that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer and protects against ovarian cancer.
According to reports that assessed the country’s policies on breastfeeding babies and infants, more than half of newborns in India are not being breastfed within the first hour of their birth called as the ‘Golden Hour’. According to reports, India ranked 56 out of 76 countries on early initiation of breastfeeding according to the 2018 Global Breastfeeding Scorecard. The Unicef report says that around 95 per cent of children in India are breastfed at some point in their early years. However, this is not adequate and only 41.6 per cent of babies are breastfed within the first hour of birth in India, as reported. According to the fourth edition of the National Health and Family Survey, only 54.2 per cent of women in Karnataka breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and the state has set a target of 65.2 per cent by the end of year 2025.
These statistics are alarming and the majority of babies in India still miss out on breastfeeding that could lead to life-threatening consequences for babies. Breastfeeding is the foundation of life and must be made a norm mandatory for every mother to breastfeed as it is the birth right of every infant to be breastfed. Formula feeding is just an alternative and doesn’t have the qualities of a mother’s breast milk that’s protective in nature.
(The writer is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Apollo Cradle Royale, Nehru Place, New Delhi.)