Exclusive breastfeeding protects over 1.7 million infants against undernutrition, disease and death in Assam
GUWAHATI, India, 23 March 2010 - Every year, two million Indian children die before their fifth birthday, most of them from preventable causes.
The Government of India and international organizations recommend that infants be fed only breast milk for the first six months of life, with no other foods or fluids added, not even water. This is referred to as exclusive breastfeeding.
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"Unquestionable global evidence demonstrates that breastfeeding counselling and support is the most important child survival intervention" says Dr. Victor Aguayo, Chief Child Nutrition and Development Programme with UNICEF.
In each village, all village-based health and nutrition workers meet at the Anganwadi centre on a fixed day each month. There, they draw up a list of the women who are in their last trimester of pregnancy or nursing an infant and establish a schedule for home-visits.
“We know how important breastfeeding is for child survival, and now mothers understand how vital breastmilk is to the health of their babies,” said Jeroo Master, the Chief of the UNICEF Assam office. “Having health and nutrition workers actively promoting breastfeeding at the village level will ensure each child has the best start possible in life with exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.”
Mothers who live and work in the tea communities are in special need of support as most of them resume work soon after childbirth. The Government of Assam and UNICEF urge tea companies to allot nursing mothers in nearby tea plantations so that mothers can go home for nursing breaks. If this is not possible, the secondary caregiver – often a senior woman in the family – is encouraged to take the infant to the mother’s workplace for breastfeeding.
The state of Assam is demonstrating that effective partnerships, focused strategies and community-based action can indeed double the rates of exclusive breastfeeding in a relatively short period of time.
For more information and interviews, please contact:
Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Alistair Gretarsson, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India