Issue Date: Thursday , December 11 , 2008
Bottle aces baby battle
- Fall in number of breastfed kids, health schemes fail
New Delhi, Dec. 10: India’s child health services and the national rural health mission have made little difference to the nation’s dismal statistics on breastfeeding, a practice that prevents illness and deaths among infants, experts said today.
A new report on breastfeeding in India has revealed a slight dip in the proportion of babies exclusively breastfed till six months of age — as recommended by paediatricians — and an increase in the proportion of babies bottle-fed in the first six months.
The proportion of babies receiving milk from bottles in their first six months has climbed from 13 per cent to 16 per cent over the past three years, and the proportion exclusively breastfed is down from 46.9 per cent to 46.4 per cent.
“Both trends are bad signs,” said Arun Gupta, a paediatrician and national co-ordinator of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, and a member of the Prime Minister’s National Council on India’s Nutritional Challenges.
A large number of studies has established that exclusive breastfeeding till babies are six months old can dramatically reduce the risk of potentially life-threatening diarrhoea and pneumonia.
The government’s child health programmes and the national rural health mission have paid only “lip service” to breastfeeding, Gupta said. “All our agencies acknowledge that breastfeeding is important, but there has been little action,” he said.
“No one is investing in training family health counsellors who can spread this simple message,” Gupta said. “There has also been no follow-up on pledges that working mothers from poor families would receive Rs 500 a month to make up for loss of income when they choose to stay home and breastfeed their babies for the first six months. This has been proposed, but we’ve seen no implementation yet,” Gupta said.
The proportion of babies exclusively breastfed dropped from about 70 per cent during the first month to about 27 per cent during the sixth month, according to the report released by the Breastfeeding Promotion Feeding Network of India.
One key goal of India’s national rural health mission, launched about three years ago, is to improve infant and maternal health across vast areas that have long remained denied of efficient healthcare services.
Doctors said the rural health mission could have achieved an impact on breastfeeding through appropriate initiatives.
“We’ve missed opportunities,” said Vandana Prasad, a paediatrician with Public Health Resource Network, a non-government agency.
“Nine out of 10 women in India who work in the informal sector have no recourse to maternity leave whatsoever,” said Prasad. “This is not just an injustice, but also a hurdle to improvements in child survival.”