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Statewide campaign in Gujarat to promote breastfeeding

A mother breastfeeding her baby in Valsad district of Gujarat
© UNICEF/India/Gurinder Gulati
A mother breastfeeding her baby in Valsad district of Gujarat

By Gurinder Gulati

Gandhinagar, 7 August 2007: Although Gujarat is considered to be one of the most developed states in India, ironically, almost every second child under three years of age in the state is undernourished. With only 27.1 per cent (NFHS-3) of mothers initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth, it ranks 18th among different states of India.  Only 47.8 per cent mothers exclusively breastfeed their children upto six months.

To combat the high levels of malnutrition and lack of awareness about correct “Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices (IYFC)”, the Gujarat Government decided to observe World Breastfeeding Week this year by launching a statewide campaign to reorient its entire force of more than 40,000 health and child care workers on IYCF.    

Simultaneously, to promote public private partnership to reduce child malnutrition, the Government has joined hands with the Indian Academy of Paediatrics and UNICEF to issue a joint appeal to pediatricians of the state to create awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Recently, when a lady health worker visited one of the families in Valsad to examine a new born, she found the child crying incessantly.  On enquiry, the grand mother revealed, “The baby was born last night.  We did not give him anything as mother was unable to lactate.  Someone has been sent to fetch goat’s milk.  As soon as it comes, we will give it to the child”.   

The worker was taken aback at the response and counseled the mother to put the child to her breasts.  As soon as the child was brought close to the mother, everybody was pleasantly surprised to see the infant suckling the mother and in moments, the entire scenario of gloom changed into one of happiness. 

The health worker then explained to the family at length on the importance of initiating breast feeding within half hour and advised them to exclusively breastfeed the child for the next six months to protect him against diseases.  “I had learnt this in the orientation workshop, organized by the Medical College and UNICEF on Infant and Young Child Feeding”, proudly said Ramilben, the Lady Health Worker.

The Departments of Health and Women & Child Development have also decided to use the opportunity of World Breastfeeding Week to highlight the importance of recently launched “Mamta Abhiyan” as a statewide strategy to mobilize the community about maternal and child health.  

Special functions are being organized all over the state to emphasize on the appropriate child caring practices relating to “regular growth monitoring, early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding”.  Brochures, brought out by BPNI on this year’s theme “Breastfeeding: The 1st Hour – Save one million babies!”  have been translated in Gujarati and distributed to all the Health and ICDS officials, Faculty of Medical Colleges.  The brochure highlights scientific findings of a research which suggests “India can save the lives of 250,000 babies every year by just ONE action” - and that is initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth.



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