Breastfeeding in India has shown an upward trend. The National Health & Family Survey-5, released by the Government of India on November 24, last year, has taken into account several indexes related to mothers and infants in the context of breastfeeding. The most important issue is to breastfeed a newborn within an hour of birth when the mother’s milk contains antibodies, hormones, and a host of elements needed for the newborn’s wellbeing.

On a global level, 40% of women breastfeed within an hour, compared to India’s 57.5%. It’s a welcoming upward trend, but still, we are missing out on the remaining 53 percent of lactating mothers. The problem appears global and has to be tackled at a worldwide level. Awareness about an hour of feeding would be the best message globally and in India too! Colostrum contains enough nutrients in the right proportions needed for the newborn. Natural evolution has its way. All lactating animal species, including mammals, follow this natural doctrine of feeding their babies immediately. Babies are no different, be they mammals or humans. But we have adapted to a change, suiting their beliefs and extraneous behavioural concerns.

Immediate newborn breastfeeding reduces newborn deaths (conservative estimate at > 8,300) drastically and is viewed as an initial kick-gear for development in the would-be child. We lay foundations for a strong structure, and the same dictum applies here. Slowly, the colostrum is replaced by transitional milk in the mother, making it adaptable for the newborn turning towards infancy. According to the NHFS-5 survey, 64% of babies are fed up to 6 months. Still, more needs to be done. The Eastern States of India & some Breastfeeding rates were higher in parts of the southern state. Goa is the highest on this indicator. Breastfeeding practise is linked to many factors. Positive backdrops are higher literacy rates among women, awareness (philanthropic initiative), socio-economic status, and the rural-urban divide. It is a paradox that literate women, due to cosmetic concerns, are worried about body contours and shun breastfeeding. It is a grey area that can be dealt with awareness.

The mother’s milk changes from transitional to mature milk naturally, suiting the requirements of the growing infant. At this stage, the lactating mother has to be supported throughout India (80,701 existing and 1,50,000 proposed by this yearend). The pre-pregnancy care clinics, as well as post-pregnancy centers, must be robust in the Indian Health Care Delivery System, but sustained efforts are showing good results. We hope to be setting a bench-mark at par globally. The mother-infant lactation biological axis starts from the brain, leading to the release of female hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin. Skin contact with the newborn is a maternal bond that only mothers can experience. Lactating mothers show a reduced incidence of breast cancer and ovarian cancer and promote well-being in them. The growing baby is better at milestone development, emotionally connected to the mother, and has better survival. This would translate into a reduced load on our health care system from investments in Maternal and Child Health Care. The scope of corpus funds can be sub-diverted to another portion in health care. The mother is an axis of the family in India still, compared to the blooming nuclear families in the West. Education and awareness about breastfeeding is a priority now in our country. Ideally speaking, when we would have achieved.

The author is former Director, Civil Hospital Lucknow Ophthalmic Surgeon Medical Health Services, Government of Uttar Pradesh.

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