A number of studies about nursing babies and its benefits were conducted in second half of the 20th century across the world

The first week of August is celebrated as breastfeeding week the world over. The campaign began 20 years ago, launched by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), with the theme ‘Baby-friendly hospital initiative’.

WABA was formed essentially to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies, a natural phenomenon that had been overturned by clever marketing on the part of formula food companies. By then, the realisation that formula-fed babies suffered from diseases and infections and that many mothers relied on formula food instead of breastfeeding, had sunk in.

The movement has now found a foothold with obstetricians, neonatologists and paediatricians routinely counselling mothers on nursing.

Changes did not take place overnight. A number of studies about nursing babies and its benefits were conducted in second half of the 20th century across the world. The pattern of nursing in rural and urban mothers and whether the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on breastfeeding were appropriate for India were also analysed. When there was enough evidence to show that breastfed babies grew up healthier, more intelligent and did not succumb to infections and diseases, governments began to draft rules to prevent formula food manufacturers from luring innocent mothers.

In the past decade, I have heard paediatricians lament that young mothers from slums would rather spend money on formula food. But intensive coaching and efforts like ‘well baby’ schemes have yielded results. Paediatric hospitals conduct ‘well baby’ contests, and parents are encouraged to be present during the awards ceremony. Mothers who have exclusively breastfed their babies for the first six months or more are rewarded.

When a sick baby is brought into the emergency room at the Government Children’s Hospital attached to the Institute of Child Health, one of the questions the paediatrician on duty is taught to ask is if the mother nurses her baby. The new mother is encouraged to feed her baby and is also taught the right way to hold her baby. Very often, young women are shy to ask for help but they are eager to care for their baby and learn to overcome their inhibitions, said a paediatrician at the emergency room.

Now that one hurdle has been cleared, WABA has shown the way by seeking to support “all women to be able to optimally feed and care for their infants and young children.” It is with this aim that Sri Ramachandra University recently launched a lactation support programme for its women staff and students, allowing them to continue nursing even while at work.

According to L.N. Padmasani, Professor and Head, Paediatrics, at the University, “the programme will provide the baby with nutritious food, protecting it from diseases.” The University offers free training programmes for organisations. You can contact Hariprasad 9940037219 or Prabhakar 9940037865.

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