Breastfeeding is inherent to all mammals, including humans. The first priority of a mother used to be the breast feeding of her babies till they reached infancy. With change in times and life style, women started to work, slowly moving away from breast feeding to artificial feeds, since the 19th century.
To bring back the importance of breast feeding, the “Innocenti Declaration” was made by the WHO and the UNICEF. As per this declaration, “all women should be enabled to practice exclusive breast feeding and all infants should be fed exclusively on breast milk up to 4 to 6 months of age as a global goal for optimal maternal and child health and nutrition”.
Subsequently, the ‘World Alliance for Breast Feeding Action’ (WABA), an NGO from USA, started Breast Feeding Awareness Week in 1992. Since then, it is being celebrated every year from 1st to 7th of August, worldwide, to generate public awareness and support for breast feeding.
The theme for this year’s celebrations is ‘Protect breastfeeding: A shared responsibility’. The reason behind this theme is to bring awareness to people, of the importance of breastfeeding. The slogan for this year is ‘Breast feeding: Foundation of life’.
The advantages of breast feeding are multifold. Human breast milk contains the right mix of the nutrients for the baby’s physical and intellectual growth. It is available at right temperature and is easily digested by the baby’s gut. Antibodies in the breast milk protect the baby against infections, allergies, asthma and other digestive disturbances, thereby reducing neonatal and infant death rates. It also protects babies against ‘sudden infant death syndrome’. It is proven beyond doubt that breast feeding enhances the bonding between the baby and its mother.
Breastfeeding and COVID:
Breastfeeding is the highly recommended even during the COVID pandemic. The virus is not transmitted through breast milk. However, the mother, if infected, needs to take precautions to avoid spread via nasal droplets and touch.
Washing hands before and after touching baby, wearing a proper mask and not sneezing in front of baby, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, are the important precautions to be taken by a Covid positive mother while breastfeeding. If the mother is afraid of directly feeding, milk can be expressed with a manual or electric pump, using the same safety precautions.
Breastfeeding and COVID vaccination:
Considering the severity of Corona virus infection, vaccination is recommended to all lactating women by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. It is absolutely safe to the mother. As a special drive, all lactating women and women who have children below 5 years are being vaccinated on priority.
Let us educate, encourage and support all our young mothers to breast feed their babies. Let us create a safe and friendly environment, both at home and at work places, for this practice to continue. Exclusive breast feeding is the best feeding to all babies in the first 6 months of life.
The Author of the article is Dr. Mrs. Leela Digumarti, Gynaecological Oncologist, KIMS-ICON Hospital and In-Charge – Public Awareness Committee, Obstetric & Gynaecological Society of Visakhapatnam