The world observed 1- 7 August 2015 as the world breastfeeding week. This concept started by WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action), WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) is in my opinion to promote breastfeeding among women and to make breastfeeding in public more acceptable. This year’s theme was “ breastfeeding and work – let’s make it work!”. Work in this context refers to all – the formal setup, the informal setup as well as at home.
What exactly does this imply at home in India? Women here mostly work in the informal set up and from home or at home. Though breastfeeding is generally supported in India, Exclusive breastfeeding? Not so much. Only about one-third of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Surprisingly some people even encourage mothers to substitute breast milk with cow milk or such items. Reasons vary from ignorance, compulsion, the mother being needed to work in the house – after all how can a bahu (daughter-in-law) take rest for so long?, the hungry child can be fed by other means, even indifference on the mother’s part, believe it or not I saw a 4 month old baby being fed tea mixed with cow milk because the mother had gone shopping for shoes. Contrary to what science tells us and health ministry tries to promote, rural families in most of north India believe that exclusive breastfeeding will not satisfy the child’s hunger. We promote the concept of fat baby rather than a healthy baby. Despite Amir Khan regularly telling us in his TV ads – “6 mahine sirf stanpaan fir stanpaan aur poshan ka dhyan” meaning only breastfeeding till 6 months and then taking care of breastfeed plus nutrition, it will take a lot of tv watching for the message to sink in. Provided the ad continues for that long.
As far as the formal work environment is concerned many new mothers are forced to supplement breastfeeding with other means since they have to return to office and they have to leave the baby at home either with maids or family/relatives. Unfortunately not many day care centres are available at either the workplace or around it to encourage mothers to take care of their babies during work hours as well. The practice of pumping and storing breastmilk has not really been heard of and raises quite a lot of eyebrows.
Luckily women today are gaining education and speaking up for their rights. Also the corporate houses have become more sensitive to the need of their female workforce and have started with paid maternity leaves and offering more flexible work timings and work from home offers. Companies like HUL and IBM even have their own day care centres.
I have nothing against bottle-feeding but let’s hope women who want to continue breastfeeding are not forced to stop because we as a society don’t support them.