Chennai: Experts from Nutrition International, a Canadian not-for-profit organization, have emphasized that a mother’s breast milk is like a vaccination that nourishes the baby life-long. They said, it builds immunity and cognition, reduces the risk of stunting, and protects the baby from diseases and death.
Breast milk is naturally fortified with nutrients and antibodies making it even more important in COVID-19 times to protect both babies and mothers, said the organization. They also highlighted the need to debunk the myths surrounding breastfeeding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the sidelines of World Breastfeeding week that is observed during the first week of August, the nutrition experts said that COVID-19 has disrupted serviced provided and Anganwadis, health sub-centers, besides a reduction in institutional deliveries as a result of which there is a decline in important pre-birth and post-birth services, counselling of pregnant, lactating women, and weighing of children.
They pointed out that the fear of COVID-19 infection transmission via breast milk and rumors in this regard are discouraging the practice. Inadequate maternity leave legislation, unregulated and inappropriate marketing activities within the breast milk-substitute industry are also reasons that have caused a decline in the practice, they added.
According to Mini Varghese, Country Director, India, Nutrition International, ensuring the implementation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth during all institutional deliveries will be an important step.
On the myths and its detrimental effects on breastfeeding, Anganwadi worker, Nidhi Shrivastav from Madhya Pradesh said, “COVID-19 positive mothers who give birth, refuse to breastfeed as they fear passing on the infection to their babies. However, we work on counselling these new mothers and their families on the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding.”
“We also encourage them to take precautions such as washing their hands, wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces for safe breastfeeding practices,” she added.
Nutrition International said that despite breastfeeding being cost-effective, baby food companies continue to attack and replace breastfeeding with their products. It also mentioned World Health Assembly (WHA) endorsing the “International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes” which recognises commercial marketing of baby foods as harmful to the health of infants.
In India, the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, and Amendment Act 2003 (IMS Act) bans all forms of promotion of foods marketed to children up to two years of age, said the organisation.
“While India has a law to protect breastfeeding, it needs action for enforcement,” said Mini Varghese. She added that the concerned stakeholders including professional associations need to come forward to support the government to ensure that the IMS Act is implemented in its true spirit.