India ranks lowest among South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in breastfeeding practices, with only 44 per cent women being able to breastfeed their babies within one hour of delivery.
This is despite an overall increase in institutional deliveries. Breastfeeding, within an hour of delivery, reduces neo-natal mortality by 22 per cent as it protects babies from various infections.
According to the report, Arrested Development, prepared by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) and the Public Health Resource Network (PHRN), India scored 78 out of 150, indicating the nation has made little improvement in infant and young child feeding practices, since its last assessment in 2012. The report also states that India made "slow progress" in enhancing breastfeeding practices in the last 11 years.
As per the data, out of the 26 million born in India, 14.5 million children are unable 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 enlists paucity of data, ineffective policies, lack of budgets and coordination, and absence of better monitoring as factors limiting breastfeeding practices in India.The assessment that is done every three to five years as part of WHO's World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative reveals gaps in all 10 areas of policies and programmes to be implemented for enhancing breastfeeding rates.
"It is not understandable why only 44.6 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 Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator of BPNI, said.
Baby food is not the substitute
The report held increasing sale of infant food and formulae as a major reason behind the 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.