Infant mortality is one of India's most persistent health concerns. It is a well-established fact that breastfeeding reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend well into adulthood.
In 2018, World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) issued a new 10 point guidance to further raise awareness on the criticality of early breastfeeding. According to a research, breastfeeding babies for the first two years would annually save the lives of more than 8,20,000 children under the age five.
This report recommends mothers to start breastfeeding in the first hour after birth. Early initiation has numerous immunological and nutritional benefits for newborns that have been found to reduce mortality in babies under the age of one.
"Breast milk is considered to be a baby's first vaccine. It is rich with immune and non-immune components which resist infection and also accelerate intestinal maturation in a child. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia and other infectious diseases in comparison to infants who drink other substitutes to breast milk," said Dr Nirmala Chandrashekhar of BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru.
Chandrashekhar added that breastfeeding from the first hour of birth ensures that infants consume the colostrum, which is the first secretion from the mammary glands after giving birth. Said to be high in antibodies, colostrum reduces the risk of death from hypothermia, helps in epithelial recovery and protects children from infectious diseases
Breastfeeding and producing breast milk require a good amount of energy. So, to build and keep up a healthy milk supply, new mothers must fuel their body with well-balanced meals and healthy snacks.
"Lactating women should consume nutritionally adequate diet both during pregnancy and lactation. Iron is needed for haemoglobin synthesis, mental function and to provide immunity against diseases. Deficiency of iron leads to anaemia. Plant foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes and dry fruits like dates, raisins contain iron. Animal foods like meat, fish and poultry also contains iron," said Karthigai Selvi of BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru.
Apart from these, she recommended that new mothers should include Vitamin C rich fruits in their diet. These include gooseberries, guava, lemon, sweet lime and oranges, among others. Beverages like tea, bind dietary iron and make it unavailable. It should be avoided before, during or soon after a meal.
Selvi concluded by saying that lactating mothers should avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs during lactation. It is also crucial that family members support lactating mothers.