A bond stronger than blood, strengthened by milk!
By Gitanjali Chaturvedi
Maral is not an ordinary medical student. She is busy – and it’s not just her coursework that keeps her occupied. She devotes most of her time to Daud, her six-month son. Every morning, she begins her day by expressing milk for him before hurrying for her classes. Although a nanny cares for the baby until she returns at 2 pm, Daud is never out of her mind. She likes to return in time to cuddle and feed him, to play with him, and spend her time watching him grow.
She enjoys a special bond with Daud. And this is because she has been breastfeeding him since he was born. ‘It’s intuitive, our connection,’ she says. ‘Since I began breastfeeding him, our bond has deepened. He can sense me returning from my classes, he gets excited in anticipation.’
This wasn’t the case with her older son. Maral was much younger and not studying medicine and depended on her mother for advice. She breastfed her older son for four months but supplemented the feeding with water. To make matters worse, she introduced dairy milk at six months, without consulting medical professionals. Maral understands this was a big mistake. Her son was lactose intolerant and developed skin allergies that became so severe that he had to be put in intensive care. It took him three years to recover from his allergies. Looking back, she realises that a simple, uninformed decision cost her dearly. Emotionally and financially, it was exhausting. With all medical bills and the cost of milk substitutes, she didn’t want to make the same mistake with Daud.
As Daud grins and gurgles by her side, Maral notes how different he is from his older brother. ‘He doesn’t fall sick as frequently… and if he does, he gets well in a day or two. Daud has a stronger immune system and that’s because he has been on breast milk.’
In between, concerned that Daud was a little underweight at five months, she thought of introducing supplementary food. ‘But he developed diarrhoea and I reverted to exclusive breastfeeding,’ she adds. She refers to the UNICEF booklet on exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding norms for mothers, when she needs guidance on how to feed her infant.
Daud is fed on demand, as frequently as possible. Maral hopes that she will be able to breastfeed as long as she can. Since she is a student, she has the pressure of expressing milk. If she were at home all day, she would be able feed more frequently. Maral eats and drinks often and carries hot tea with her so she is able to produce milk. But though this seems complicated, Maral prefers breastfeeding to using bottles. ‘It’s too much trouble cleaning and sanitising bottles. Breastfeeding is natural,’ she says. ‘People don’t realise that there is less effort in breastfeeding. It is bottles that add to the work! Who wants so much burden?’
Not many women in Turkmenistan have the time, energy, or support to practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. A recent survey conducted by UNICEF revealed that only 15% of infants are exclusively breastfed. In 2009, Turkmenistan adopted aLaw on Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Requirements for Infant Feeding Products. This law incorporates the provisions of the International Code on Breastmilk Substitutes of the World Health Organization that protect and promote breastfeeding, by providing adequate information on appropriate infant feeding and regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, bottles and pacifiers. It also prohibits the promotion of breastmilk substitutes to the general public through advertisements or through the health care system.
This law will enable the country to create an environment that empowers women to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue to breastfeed for two years or more. Counselling of mothers is also provided through the UNICEF supported Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative. 94% of the hospitals in the country are now certified as baby-friendly.
Maral has a supportive family that encourages her to breastfeed. Her husband Batyr who is a student of Information Technology encourages her to breastfeed because they struggled with their older son. ‘Breast milk substitutes are expensive and therefore not an option – breast is best,’ he says.