Back to the breast

Many organisations in the country are working at weaning parents from the bottle to mother's milk

Published: Wednesday 15 September 1993

Back to the breast

Breast is best BREAST milk is the most nutritious and wholesome food for an infant because it contains proteins, minerals and vitamins in the required proportion, as well as the anti-microbial constituents, which protect the baby against diarrhoeal diseases. Unfortunately, the last 40 years have seen a shift from brest-feeding to using substitutes such as powdered milk.

Organisations promoting breast-feeding, in the best of conditions with proper preparation and hygiene, infant formula can only be an adequate, never the ideal, food for babies. Many parents in developing countries lack the education required to follow the instructions given on milk-powder tins. Clean water for sterilising feeding bottles and teats is also difficult to obtain. And, unsterilised bottles and over-diluted feeds are the two most common causes of infant deaths in the developing world.

The World Alliance for Breast-feeding Action (WABA) was set up in February 1991 by various organisations promoting breast-feeding. August 1-7 was declared the annual Global Breast-feeding Week and the theme for this year was "Breast-feeding, Women and Work". WABA has also launched the Mother-Friendly Workplace Initiative this year, which will highlight problems faced by nursing mothers in their workplace and strive to create supportive environments.

The government has already launched several breast-feeding programmes such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the Scheme for Assistance for Creches for Working or Ailing Mothers and Mother and Child Health (MCH).

The MCH programme is conducted under the supervision of primary health centres and provides health and nutrition education for expectant and nursing mothers and pre-school children. Immunisation programmes are also organised.

Working under the auspices of the International Baby Food Action Network, Breast Feeding Promotion in India (BFPI) conducts three-day workshops on "Human Lactation Management Training" all over the country, in which health personnel are trained in breast-feeding management. BFPI, which started its work in March 1992, now has a network of 400 members represented uniformly in all the states and union territories of the country. Women who are unable to breast-feed are advised to use copper spoons rather than resort to bottle-feeding. BFPI's Arun Gupta says, "Our main attack is against the bottle, which has been found to be the major source of infection even in the most hygienic environment. The ideal of course is breast-feeding, which ensures immune-response in the baby."
Promoting breast-feeding Volunteers and community workers with the Catholic Hospital Association of India work in urban slums and in villages to promote breast-feeding. They also help mothers who are unable to breast-feed.

The Le Leche Group volunteers are mother-support groups. They work with paediatricians and ACASH, a consumer group in Bombay, to educate women about the advantages of breast-feeding and help them with their problems.

The Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) has been conducting vigorous campaign against bottle-feeding. They have been working for the adoption as law of a national code on baby food marketing. They regularly conduct workshops to promote breast-feeding. Their Improved Infant Feeding Practices project, which was launched in January 1988, aims at improving child health and nutrition by educating mothers and increasing awareness among word parents regarding the importance of breast-feeding and better hygiene and cleanliness in the handling and feeding of infants.

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