Nov 29, 2008

Health - Only 13.8% mothers follow WHO guidelines

Prasad Kulkarni

PUNE: A study conducted by the Command Hospital and Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune has found an abysmally low rate of exclusive
breastfeeding' among mothers. Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued specific guidelines for the same purpose, merely 13.8% mothers follow them due to lack of awareness.

The WHO recommendations clearly mention that breastfeeding to the newborn babies should start within an hour of the birth and should continue exclusively for six months to reduce chances of neonatal mortality. Even the experts discourage the use of artificial feeds and bottles. More awareness and social support is required to ensure rise in percentage of breastfeeding.

While informing about the study, Surgeon Capt Sheila Mathai, neonatologist, AFMC told TOI, "Around 200 mothers from across the city were included in the study. We interacted with them during their visit to our civilian dispensary department. These mothers hail from lower and middle class families." She added that "the study was conducted for three months. It was anchored by Priyanka Aiyyar, a student of AFMC. The mothers were asked questions about breastfeeding and why they don't continue exclusive breast feeding for six months."

Mathai said that many mothers were unaware of the WHO recommendations. "Every breastfeeding mother needed support from her family, workplace and society to ensure that she is successful in giving her baby breast milk." She emphasised on the need to sensitise the society towards these healthy practices.

Highlighting that the present average neonatal mortality rate stands at around 40 (neonatal mortality rate is the number of deaths during the first 28 days per 1,000 live births), Mathai added that the national goal is to bring this down to less than 30/1,000 live births by 2010.

Emphasising on boosting up the neonatal care system, she said that leading causes of death include birth asphyxia, sepsis and low birth weight, and essential care of newborn babies should be taken. This essential care includes clean delivery practices, facilities for neonatal resuscitation, breastfeeding, provision of warmth, prevention of infection and extra care of the low birth weight baby.

"Our study has shown there are many deeply penetrated social problems which lead to lack of awareness among mothers. We should try to inculcate awareness about breast-feeding since school education and try to sensitise the society towards the issue," Mathai opined.

When asked about the reasons due to which mothers prefer artificial feeds and bottles, Joystna Padalkar, president of Breast-Feeding Sub Chapter, Indian Academy of Pediatrics said that, "Many mothers stop breast-feeding due to physical weakness. They start giving supplements to new born babies. Due lack of knowledge some mothers blindly follow other mothers and do what they are doing. If a few mothers follow wrong practices, then all of them end up doing the same."