WORLD Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated every year from August 1-7 across the world to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies and mothers.
This year, for WBW 2021, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has selected the theme: Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.
The theme is aligned with thematic area 2 of the WBW-SDG 2030 campaign which highlights the links between breastfeeding and survival, health and wellbeing of women, children and nations.
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat — everything baby needs to grow.
And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies.
Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhoea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding widely contributes to maternal health immediately after the delivery because it helps reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage.
In by the short term, breastfeeding delays the return to fertility and in the long term, it reduces type 2 diabetes and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding – how it is in Pakistan: Despite the high cultural acceptance for breastfeeding in Pakistan, the country has the highest bottle-feeding rates and lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in South Asia.
The percentage of exclusively breastfed children in Pakistan has remained static, with just a microscopic increase evident, over the last couple of years. According to the Demographic Health Survey, this percentage has risen only from 37.1 percent in 2006-07 to 37.7 percent in 2012-13.
Many mothers do not feed their babies colostrums i.e. the mother’s first milk which contains vital antibodies that protect new-borns against diseases.
According to UNICEF and WHO, out of 10, less than two mothers are engaged in early breast-feeding in Pakistan and this is one of the lowest rates of breast-feeding in the world.
Depriving babies of breastfeeding at a critical stage of their development has serious consequences, including limited height, incomplete brain development and elevated disease risks.
Widespread stunting also has much wider implications, like increased healthcare burden and reducing the productivity of future generations. Pakistan’s current rate of child stunting is among the highest in the world.
A leading cause of this malnutrition is limited breastfeeding contradictory to the misimpression that most Pakistani mothers breastfeed their children. According to recent estimates, however, less than 40 per cent of babies are being breastfed exclusively during their first six months.
The nutritional status of the infants mainly depends on feeding practices in the community.
It is being seen that child rearing practices vary among people and regions of districts and provinces in Pakistan. Childhood malnutrition remains a common health problem and one of the major underlying causes of morbidity and mortality in children.
Poverty, ignorance and lack of knowledge about balanced diet are a leading cause of primary malnutrition.
Exclusive breast feeding up to the completion of sixth month of life is the national feeding
Challenges, issues & difficulties all are there but “what can be done “In order to improve the breastfeeding situation, federal and provincial governments can force legislation on breast milk substitutes, provide supportive environment for maternity protection for women in employment and ensuring breastfeeding is initiated in maternity facilities and no infant formula is routinely used.
The Government can also take initiatives regarding capacity building of health providers and community workers to offer counselling on Infant Young Child Feeding and mother-to-mother support groups in the communities, accompanied by communication strategies to promote breastfeeding, using multiple channels and messages tailored to the local context.
Most cost effective intervention to reduce infant mortality in Pakistan is promotion of exclusive breast feeding and appropriate complementary feeding practices.
This can be achieved by health education and public awareness programmes by the government and with the help of NGOs.
The collaboration of public private partnership would lead to the achievement of the Millennium Developing Goal.
Maternal and Child Health Centres can be established especially in underprivileged areas of Pakistan where both curative and preventive health services can be provided for mothers and children.
These centres will be a great source of providing continuous exclusive awareness on the benefits of breastfeeding.
UNICEF – an ideal source of learning: In Pakistan, UNICEF promotes ‘Mother and Child Health Week’, which is a multi-pronged outreach campaign.
The programme aims to prevent mothers and children from catching various diseases by informing them about basic hygiene principles and how to establish a healthy environment at home.
UNICEF also distributes the Mother and Child Health booklet, popularly known as the ‘Green Book’.
With easy to comprehend language and illustrations, the book is a reference and record keeping booklet which a mother can use not only for seeking guidance on health issues but also for maintaining record of her and her child’s health status, starting from pregnancy till the child turns five.
—The writer is a poet & works for the humanitarian causes in Pakistan