India ranks lowest among South Asian countries in breastfeeding practices with only 44 per cent women being able to breastfeed their babies within one hour of delivery.
According to a report released today, ineffective policies, lack of budgets and coordination, and absence of better monitoring are limiting breastfeeding practices in India.
Prepared by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) and the Public Health Resource Network (PHRN), the assessment report on the government’s policies and programmes on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) states that India made “slow progress” in enhancing breastfeeding practices in the past 11 years.
The organisations also submitted recommendations to the government for promotion of breastfeeding including an effective mechanism for strict implementations of regulations controlling baby foods.
The recommendations also included a national policy on IYCF, revival of baby-friendly hospitals and maternity protection and policies with a provision of nine months of maternity leave.
According to the report ‘Arrested Development’, the fourth such document released by the organisations since 2004, India scored a total of 78 out of 150 indicating the nation has made little improvement since its last assessment in 2012.
“Even countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have made rapid progress. We have tested the policy there also using the same tools. Their foundation of human development is based on development and survival of small babies. India is almost static in past several years,” Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator of BPNI, said.
The assessment that is done every three to five years as part of WHO’s World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTI) reveals gaps in all ten areas of policies and programmes to be implemented for enhancing breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeeding within an hour of delivery reduces neo-natal mortality by 22 per cent as it protects the babies from various kind of infections, Dr Gupta said, adding that it also increases the success rate of breastfeeding.
“It is not understandable why only 44 per cent women are able to begin breastfeeding within one hour when more than 75 per cent deliver in institutions as claimed by our Prime Minister during his speech (a) few days back at the Global Call to Action Summit 2015,” Dr Gupta said.
According to the data, out of 26 million born in India, 14.5 million children are not able to get optimal feeding practices during the first year of life. While 44.6 per cent initiate breastfeeding within one hour of delivery, 50.5 per cent babies receive complementary food within 6-8 months, 64.9 per cent get exclusive breastfeeding.
The report held increasing sale of infant food and formulas as a major reason behind low breastfeeding rate in the country.
“Aggressive promotion of baby food, lack of support to women in the family and at work places, inadequate health care support and weak policies and programmes are some of the reasons because of which infant and young child feeding have not shown a consistent rise,” Vandana Prasad, National Convenor of PHRN, said.