By Richa Pendake
Despite the world accelerating towards becoming an inclusive and progressive platform for all, there are multiple challenges women still have to navigate. One of these challenges includes concerns around breastfeeding. Research shows that most Indian moms breastfeed their infants for at least a year despite the difficulty they face. Breastfeeding is a complex process governed by psychological and physiological aspects, which is influenced by a wide range of environmental, social, economic, and cultural factors.
We live in a culture, where we celebrate breastfeeding, but fail to consider and acknowledge the concerns of the new mothers. Despite policies and strategies used to support, safeguard, and normalize breastfeeding, we are unable to meet our objectives. Starting from restrictive cultural and traditional practices, educational gap, and lack of sensitization and outreach by healthcare systems to economic aspects, there are multifactorial reasons for the current state of breastfeeding. In addition to pre-existing misconceptions that exist in society, Indian couples are rapidly moving away from traditional roles. In contemporary lifestyles, both partners are working in MNCs, breastfeeding has become inconvenient. Even today, despite anti-discriminatory laws, many women are asked to stop breastfeeding or leave public areas if they want to continue doing so. There is an evident lack of adequate facilities for breastfeeding in public places, which often makes women feel uncomfortable. This results in restricting their activities to avoid having to breastfeed in public.
There is still a wide knowledge gap when it comes to breastfeeding. Most people haven’t interacted much with mothers who have either successfully breastfed or are new at it, thus unsure of what to anticipate and prepare. While most people are aware that breast milk gives infants the proper nourishment, many are unaware of how crucial it is for healthy newborn growth, development, and wellbeing. If we take a deeper dive at the grassroots level, we may find that the medical and paramedical staff lack the training to offer the necessary direction and assistance in this regard. Bottles and formulas are freely prescribed when a mother has a problem as a “quick fix” for everyone, which restricts the practice of breastfeeding.
However, parental education counts as an important reflector. The more educated the parents are, the more likely they are to search for information on the health aspects of infant feeding choices, knowledge and benefits of breastfeeding as well as the nutritional requirement of mothers. This, in the long term, can build a positive breastfeeding pattern.
Economic status also determines the impact and ease of breastfeeding. In general, income may have an impact on breastfeeding due to its role as a measure of knowledge and attitudes as well as the possibility that women with greater incomes may be better able to purchase feeding equipment. In contrast, it is also seen that maternal employment reduces the duration of breastfeeding.
After a maternity leave of 6 months, mothers tend to prefer a child-friendly workspace. While their infants are young, more women are going back to work, and there isn’t nearly enough support to help them keep up breastfeeding. In the absence of on-site daycare, nursing rooms for women, and the lack of convenient locations to express and store breast milk while working, many women prefer bottle feeding. In addition, flexible scheduling and breastfeeding regulations are uncommon in the workplace, which is a much-needed area of concern.
Both, the mother and the baby, gain much from breastfeeding in terms of physical and emotional wellbeing. Neonatal mortality chances are lower when breastfeeding begins right away in the initial stage. Early and exclusive breastfeeding increases a child’s chance of survival, lowers the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, promotes healthy brain development, prompts the right development of the mouth and jaw, improves cognitive function, and is associated with higher educational achievement by the time the child is five. In addition, according to studies by UNICEF, optimal breastfeeding from infancy to age two has the potential to avert approximately 800,000 fatalities (13 percent of all deaths) in children under five in poor countries.
Human nutrition is significantly influenced by cultural norms and beliefs, which have also been found to impact breastfeeding behaviors. Despite any eating pattern, mothers should stay sufficiently hydrated to stave off dehydration and let the milk flow. One should also focus on having a balanced diet, which incorporates healthy fats, folates, proteins, and iron, and continue taking prenatal vitamins until completely done with breastfeeding.
Even while the government and allied institutions make a lot of efforts, it may not be enough to foster a mother and child-friendly environment that supports safeguards, and promotes breastfeeding and complementary feeding. It is time that conversation around breastfeeding is driven by positive association and implementation of proper policies to initiate mother-supportive measures, including in the private sector, which employs women. The narrative needs to change from being a societal taboo to a progressive practice by addressing the overall concerns of new mothers.
(The author is the CEO & Founder of Nutrizoe. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)