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Religious leaders to educate about breastfeeding in villages

By Tarannum Manjul

Lucknow, August 6: Studies have revealed that mother's first milk is one of the biggest life savers for the newborn. But in Uttar Pradesh, only 7.2 per cent of newborns are given this life saving drink in the first hour. Religious and social myths deprive newborns of their mother's milk, leading to malnutrition and ultimately, death.
   Celebrating Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF has tied up with religious leaders to ensure that newborns are not caught in the web of these myths and are administered mother's milk during the first hour of their birth.

   The people of the state harbour numerous myths when it comes to giving mother's milk to a newborn. According to surveys, muslims in various rural parts of the state do not give the newborn to the mother unless a maulana comes and says some holy words in the ear of the child. In many other communities, the newborn is not given to the mother for one whole day, while some communities consider mother's first milk as 'stale'.

   "We know that a large number of such myths are prevalent in the state. Hence, we have invited religious leaders to join hands with us for mass awareness. They have a say in the community," said UNICEF's Communication Officer Prosun Sen.

   Minorities are being represented by the General Secretary of the Islamic Centre of India, Maulana Khaleed Rashid, who intends to spread awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding in the first hour through the Friday prayers. "Like Polio, this message too would be spread through the khutba before the Jumme ki namaz (the Friday prayers) in all districts of the state to ensure that the message reaches out to more and more people. We must make the people aware of how mother's milk is a complete food in itself for the baby till six months," said Rasheed. Other leaders like President of the Ramkrishna Math Lucknow Swami Muktinathananda and General Secretary of the Mahabodhi Society of India Ven Sri Thero opined similar sentiments.
   State Representative for UNICEF Dr Nimal Hettiaratchy said globally, nearly 1.1 crore children under five years of age die every year of preventable causes. Twenty-five per cent of these deaths occur in India, out of which UP contributes 20 percent.

   He said breastfeeding is the single intervention that can alone prevent a substantial number of these child deaths. Studies have indicated that neonatal mortality can be reduced by 22 per cent when children are breastfed within the first hour of birth.

Community awareness programme for infants and mothers

   Care India, an NGO working for infants, has also launched a mass awareness campaign along with Vatsalya in the city and surrounding  districts to promote breastfeeding in the first hour. Shubhra Trivedi of  Care said, "We have been doing extensive surveys in various districts  and have found that there is a need of community awareness, specially targeting pregnant women and mothers-in-law. We are doing street plays to communicate it across people." Chief Functionary of Vatsalya Dr Neelam Singh said the medical benefits of mother's milk are still unknown to many. "By just giving first milk to the newborn, we can save it from dying," said Singh.

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