In 2011, more than 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday. Over 98% of these deaths occurred in developing countries. India accounted for 1.6 million deaths. Paediatricians and public health experts say exclusive breastfeeding for six months can save many such children.
According to the United Nations Children’s Funds (Unicef), breastfeeding is the most effective and inexpensive way of saving a child’s life. "Breastfeeding is a baby’s ‘first immunization’ and the most effective and inexpensive life–saver ever. There is no other single intervention that has such a high impact for babies and mothers as breastfeeding and which costs so little for governments, " said Unicef deputy executive director Geeta Rao Gupta.
She said that starting breastfeeding in the first hour after birth can reduce the risk of new–born death by up to 22% by averting deaths related to sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhea and hypothermia.
Evidence also shows that children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than nonbreastfed children.
Breastfeeding, the doctors say, also supports a child’s ability to learn and helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Recent studies in the United States and United Kingdom point to large health care savings resulting from breastfeeding, given that breastfed children fall ill much less often than non–breastfed children.
Still, data shows, that only 34 percent Indian babies are breastfed within one hours of birth. Exclusive breastfeeding for 0–16 months is available to 46 percent children.
Dr V. K. Paul, head of the pediatric department at AIIMS, says, "The challenge of optimal breastfeeding practices cannot be fully met unless we address the feeding difficulties and problems faced by preterm and low birth weight babies. The healthy babies would fail on breast feeding only occasionally. Small babies vulnerable to failing need assistance because they are the ones who have difficulty in latching on to the breast. Expressing the breast milk and feeding it to the baby with the help of spoon can be helpful, " he added.
The government of India and international organizations recommend that infants initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth and be fed only breast milk for the first six months of life. "No other foods or fluids should be added, not even water for six months. The government should look into initiatives such as educating the parent or grandparents about the benefits of breastfeeding prior to the birth of the baby, " said Dr Manish Malik, neonatologist at Max hospital, Saket.
Times of India
03 Aug 2013, New Delhi, India.