Breast-feeding is vital for babies (representative image). Photograph:( Zee News Network )
Experts from Nutrition International, a Canadian not-for-profit organisation, emphasised that a mother’s breastmilk is like a vaccination that nourishes the baby lifelong. They also highlight the need to debunk the myths surrounding breast-feeding amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Experts from Nutrition International, a Canadian not-for-profit organisation, emphasised that a mother’s breastmilk is like a vaccination that nourishes the baby lifelong. They say, it builds immunity and cognition, reduces the risk of stunting and protects the baby from diseases. It is naturally fortified with nutrients and antibodies, making it even more important in COVID-19 times to protect both babies and mothers, says the organisation. They also highlight the need to debunk the myths surrounding breast-feeding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the sidelines of World Breastfeeding week (that is observed during the first week of August), they said that COVID-19 has disrupted services being provided by Anganwadis, heath sub-centers, besides a reduction in institutional deliveries. As a result, there is a decline in important pre-birth and post-birth services, counselling of pregnant, lactating women and weighing of children.
It is pointed out that the fear of COVID-19 infection transmission (via breastmilk) and rumors in this regard are discouraging the practice. Inadequate maternity leave legislation, unregulated and inappropriate marketing activities within the breastmilk substitute industry, etc are also stated as reasons that have caused a decline.
According to Mini Varghese, Country Director, India, Nutrition International, ensuring the implementation of breast-feeding within one hour of birth during all institutional deliveries will be an important step towards achieving the target.
On the myths and its detrimental effects of breast-feeding, Anganwadi Worker, Nidhi Shrivastav from Madhya Pradesh says, COVID-19 positive mothers, who give birth, refuse to breastfeed as they fear passing on COVID-19 infection to their babies. “However, we work on counselling these new mothers and their families on the lifesaving benefits of breast-feeding. We also encourage them to take precautions such as washing their hands, wearing masks and sanitising surfaces for safe breastfeeding practices,” she adds.
Nutrition International says that, despite breast-feeding being cost-effective, baby food companies continue to attack and replace it with their products. It also makes a mention of World Health Assembly (WHA) endorsing the "International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes”, that recognises commercial marketing of baby foods as harmful to the health of infants. In India, the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, and Amendment Act 2003 (IMS Act) bans all forms of promotion of foods marketed to children up to two years of age, says the organisation.
“While India has a law to protect breast-feeding, it needs action for enforcement,” says Mini Varghese. She adds that the concerned stakeholders including professional associations need to come forward to support the government to ensure that the IMS Act is implemented in its true spirit.