Poorly nursed

Most Himachal mothers breastfeed for just two weeks

Published: Monday 31 October 2005

despite India's early international lead in promoting breastfeeding, fresh research reveals that the figures for some states such as Himachal Pradesh (hp) are a cause for worry. As many as 82 per cent mothers in hp still don't breastfeed their infants for an adequate period, says a study by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (bpni) for the National Health Survey.

While health experts suggest a minimum of six months of "exclusive" breastfeeding, in the state capital Shimla, barely four per cent of mothers report doing so. One official reported that "most" hp mothers discontinue breastfeeding after just a couple of weeks. Other under-performers include Delhi, Goa, West Bengal and Punjab, according to a paper by Prema Ramachandran of the Nutrition Foundation of India in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (Vol 119, No 6, June, 2004).

bpni found only 3.8 per cent of hp mothers exclusively breastfed for six months -- the study's lowest findings; of those, only 2.8 per cent continued past three months. Mary Lofton of the advocacy group La Leche League International notes that hp's "extremely low rates" are more generally seen "in larger cities in more affluent populations. In poorer populations, if this is true, it is very upsetting".

But the state's rural areas clearly aren't faring better. bpni's Arun Gupta recalls that during time spent in far-flung villages, mothers often expressed the worry that "they don't have enough breastmilk". Gupta says this suggests a critical need for educational initiatives stressing "confidence building -- an approach that has proven successful in other parts of the country", but remains underfunded. Countrywide, exclusive breastfeeding averages are around 40 per cent, which national health goals seek to double by 2007.

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