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Empower parents, encourage breast-feeding

  • Published at 06:05 pm July 30th, 2019
baby sleeping
PHOTO: ABED

Breast-feeding can stave off a battery of health diseases for infants

Aindrila, my only daughter, was born on October 20, 2012 just at quarter past noon.

Following an earnest request to the hospital authorities, I was allowed to stay at the operation theatre.

She was taken to a separate room for regular cleaning and was first given back to me at about 10 minutes to one o’clock in the afternoon.

During the four hours of the post-operative period, she was taken to her mother several times for breast-feeding but I was not allowed to get into that room. 

The WHO recommends exclusive breast-feeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old.

Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.

Breast-feeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike.

Increasing breast-feeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800,000 lives every year, the majority being children under six months.

Breast-feeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breast-feeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer. 

World Alliance for Breast-feeding Action (WABA) has announced the theme “Empower Parents, Enable Breast-feeding,” to celebrate World Breast-feeding Week 2019. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policy-makers, WHO, UNICEF, and other organizations to protect, promote, and support breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding is in the mother’s domain, and when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities support her, breast-feeding improves.

We can all support this process, as breast-feeding, in a way, is a team effort.

To enable breast-feeding we all need to protect, promote, and support it.

Like other parts of the globe, this year National Nutrition Services of Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN) and Bangladesh Breast Feeding Foundation (BBF) have jointly organized series of programs celebrating the week. 

A BRAC study shows that the most important stakeholders, such as the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, are not aware enough to ensure exclusive breast-feeding, which has been echoed with my own personal experiences.

Also, the entire situation has been intensified by insufficient information about the benefits of breast-feeding, which has been influenced by social stigma and superstitious beliefs.

The BRAC study also shows that benefits of colostrum feeding were commonly perceived by mothers as the “first vaccination of child” but, in practice, mothers often can manage to feed colostrum to newborn baby, which is caused by misconception and mothers’ apprehension and lack of procedural knowledge in case of primipara.

Enabling conditions at work, such as paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breast-feeding breaks, can help in this regard.

In regulating breast-milk substitutes we expect an urgent call from the PM for all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breast-feeding and the health risks of substitute: No promotion of breast-milk substitutes; no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families; and no distribution of free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.

Breast milk contains all the nutrients needed by children in the first six months of life. Supplementing breast milk before six months is discouraged, because it increases the likelihood of contamination, and hence the risk of diarrhea.

Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breast-feeding contributes to a lifetime of good health.

Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese.

They are less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests. 

Sadrul Hasan Mazumder is a policy activist.

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