Haryana Fights Age Old Myth To Discard Mother's First Milk
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28 August 2010
By Rajni Shaleen Chopra
Haryana is fighting an old myth among village women – that the first milk of a mother, after the birth of a child, is not good for a newborn and should be discarded.
For doctors in rural areas, pradhans of village Sakshar Mahila Samooh and the anganwadi workers, a major task is to educate young women that they must not throw this milk, but feed it to the infant within an hour of birth.
The initial milk of the mother is referred to as colostrum. WHO recognises it as nature’s ‘first food perfect for the newborn’. The sticky, yellowish substance produced by the mother soon after birth is ideal for the infant in composition, and is rich in antibodies. In Haryana, however, mothers have traditionally been burying it.
"The belief is that this milk is sticky and yellowish because it has stayed in the breast for nine months after the woman got pregnant. Women think this milk is spoiled and can kill a newborn," explains Sushma Sharma, the pradhan of the Sakshar Mahila Samooh (SMS) in Lalpur village in Ambala district.
Medical Officer of the Primary Health Centre in Ambli village near Naraingarh, Dr Nitu Sharma, says they have succeeded to some extent to convince the younger women to feed colostrum to the infant. "But the older women of the family still insist that this milk is bad. Instead, they insist on giving gripe water (janam ghutti), honey, cow’s milk or even tea to the newborn till normal milk starts flowing," she points out.
Another tradition, which poses a challenge is that the newborn must be given mother’s milk only after the sister–in –law comes. Says Anita Chopra, the pradhan of the SMS group in Bir Ghaggar village in Panchkula, "We followed this tradition in our family too. It is only after I became president of the SMS group and was given training on health issues that I came to know how wrong this practice is, and have been working to curb it," she says.
Sushma Sharma admits that she got to know about the significance of colostrum at the training organised for her and other SMS group pradhans at PGI, Rohtak. "Now I personally ensure that the initial milk is fed to the newborns in our village, even at the cost of annoying the older women. I tell them I am the sisterin–law and will give the child this milk," says the 38–year–old.
In addition to the awareness generated by the SMS groups, young rural women are also educated in this regard at the anganwadi centres of the state, which are frequented by pre–school children and their mothers.
"Pregnant and lactating mothers, too, come here and generating awareness about starting mother’s milk immediately for a newborn is part of the mandate of the anganwadi workers," says Shakuntala Jakhu, Secretary Women and Child Development, Haryana.
There are 17,444 anganwadis across the state.