Exclusive Breast Feeding – for survival and healthy development of infants
By Gurinder Gulati in Valsad, Gujarat
August 2005 - The heavy monsoon downpour on 1st August in Siddumbar Village in Valsad, an agricultural district in India’s Western State of Gujarat, did not deter Jasuben Naik, the Female Health Supervisor and Kantaben Patel, the Anganwadi Worker from visiting pregnant and lactating mothers in the sparsely populated “phadias” (hamlets) of Siddumbar village. It was a special day for them - the beginning of the World Breast Feeding Week celebrations. Carrying and conveying the message of vital importance of “exclusive breast feeding” for the survival and development of children was their top priority – despite the heavy rains.
Wading through knee-deep water, the two determined women Jasuben and Kantaben, reached the house of Niruben Patel, an agricultural worker and also a mother of one month old baby, Arpita. Niruben was delighted to see both of them and warmly welcomed them. “Niruben, your baby is really very healthy and active, remarked Jasuben. Niruben promptly thanked Jasuben, the female health supervisor and Kantaben, the Anganwadi worker and said, “It is all because of the correct guidance provided by you when Arpita was born. I am feeding her only my milk and nothing else, though my mother-in-law had insisted on following the tradition of feeding jaggery water immediately after birth.”
In spite of everyone in the family trying to stop her, Niruben let Arpita suckle soon after birth, since Jasuben and Kantaben, two of her trusted advisors in all child care practices had counseled her to do so. In a village where babies are not allowed to feed the colustrum fearing it is “bad milk,” Niruben had shown tremendous courage in making a choice that would equip her little baby with strength to fight disease and infection. Reiterating her previous counsel, Jasuben and Kantaben said, “Mother’s milk is always the best and continue to exclusively breast feed your baby upto six months.”
Though Gujarat is an economically developed state, its infant mortality rate (IMR) continues to be stagnant at 60/1,000. The Government is making all efforts to reduce the IMR. Realising the importance of exclusive breast feeding as a strategy which can make a dent in the IMR, the Government of Gujarat has organised, with UNICEF support, a state level workshop to launch a state-wide campaign to promote ‘exclusive breast feeding’ during the World Breastfeeding Week. Home visits are being made jointly by health workers and anganwadi workers to educate the pregnant and lactating women about the importance of exclusive breast feeding and newborn care. They will also be organizing mothers’ meetings in their villages.
Valsad is one of the focus districts where UNICEF has been actively promoting “exclusive breast feeding” as a key component of the Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCI). All doctors, health workers and anganwadi workers have been trained to educate pregnant and lactating mothers on early initiation and exclusive breast feeding upto six months. Health & Nutrition teams, consisting of health worker and anganwadi worker have been formed to provide timely guidance to the mothers in this matter. Says Dr Sanjay Kumar, Medical Officer of Siddumbar Primary Health Centre, “with the training and the communication material provided by UNICEF, we are now better equipped to educate all pregnant and lactating women about the importance of exclusive breast feeding. The booklets provided by UNICEF are excellent”.
As a part of the World Breast Feeding Week celebrations, Chanduben Dhadwi and Bharatbhai Dhadwi, the link couple of Awdha village were busy writing slogans on the walls on the benefits of exclusive breast feeding. They are also organizing mothers’ meetings to highlight the vital importance of exclusive breast feeding in saving infants from various diseases. UNICEF has also facilitated the creation of a cadre of about 300 “Link Couples”, newly married couples trained by UNICEF for health communication. Link couples have been oriented on undertaking a week-long campaign during the World Breastfeeding Week to educate mothers on exclusive breast feeding and newborn care. Posters, calendars and booklets have been provided to conduct mothers’ meetings.
It is hoped that the efforts of the Government and UNICEF will bear fruit in promoting exclusive breast feeding and the children of Gujarat will be able to live a healthier tomorrow.