Breastfeeding, also referred to as nursing, is that the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a mother’s breast. Breastfeeding may be a mother’s gift to herself and therefore the child. Breastfeeding is best for babies.
Breast milk contains many antibodies that help your baby fight off various viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding also helps to lower the risks of asthma and several allergies. Babies who are breastfed especially for the first 6 months of postnatal life have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. Optimal breastfeeding practices improve the immune system, reduce the risk of some autoimmune and atopic diseases, obesity, and leukemia in the children.
About 22 percent of newborn deaths can be prevented if breastfeeding is initiated within the first hour of birth; and 16 percent if it is started within the first 24 hours of birth. Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for the baby but is incredibly beneficial for the mother as well. It is associated with decreased maternal postpartum blood loss, decreased breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and osteoporosis.
In 2006-2007 the percentage of breastfeeding in Pakistan was 37.1% and in 2013-2014 it raised to 37.7%. Well, you can think that there is a raise but let’s see the other side of the picture. The bottle-feeding rate that was 32.1% in 2006-07 increased to a shamefully high 41% in 2012-13. (Pakistan has the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in South Asia, 7th May 2020)
Now do you still think breastfeeding is increasing? Actually no.
Pakistan’s current rate of child stunting is among the highest in the world. A leading cause of this malnutrition is limited to breastfeeding.
In previous studies of Pakistan, the percentages of women to continue breastfeeding for six months ranged from 38% to 54% and the duration of exclusive breastfeeding was less than one month. This may suggest that breastfeeding mothers may not be engaged in best practices, as babies grow older. (Jin-Won Noh 1, 2019)
Mothers are not aware of the importance of breast milk for babies. Many mothers seem to believe that traditional concoctions like batter, crushed herbs, and tea, ghee, and honey are better than the mother’s milk. So, many mothers do not feed their babies colostrum, which is the mother’s first milk, which contains vital antibodies that protect newborns against diseases.
Besides these wrong concoctions, misleading marketing by the formula milk industries remains another reason why the childbearing women in developing countries have not been breastfeeding their children as much as they should. (Ali, March 16, 2018)
To achieve the goal of reducing the rate of stunting in children, the government needs to do a lot more, particularly addressing the issues of maternity care, birth spacing, and also maternal nutrition to ensure that more mothers are healthy enough to breastfeed their newborns.
The government should implement strict laws of breastfeeding to protect children from malnutrition.
Effective public campaigns to emphasize exclusive breastfeeding, especially in the initial phase of child development. This can be achieved by targeting not only mothers but also husbands and grandparents, who are often proponents of ‘traditional’ concoctions.
Healthcare practitioners should try to convince the mothers about the medical benefits of breastfeeding, and emphasize the need for exclusively breastfeeding their children unless due to some medical reasons they are prevented to do so. Also, a minimum of once every six months, support for all breastfeeding women is required to encourage them to breastfeed their babies for a minimum of two years with appropriate complementary food.