Breastfeeding For Infant Welfare
Hira Bahadur Thapa
Whether breastfeeding has a better alternative to nursing young children, the statement from Dr. Colleen A. Craft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sounds more convincing. In the wake of deliberations on a resolution to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding in the World Health Assembly, (WHA) a governing body of World Health Organisation (WHO), the above observation could hardly have been timelier. Alexandra Stifferlin and Naina Bajekal quote him in their piece “The View Opener” (TIME , July 23, 2018).
No doubt about the health rewards from breastfeeding including fight against Asthma, Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome ( SIDS ) and other infectious diseases, positions of countries clashed when discussion on this issue took place at the most recent session of the World Health Assembly. Frustratingly the US, which contributes roughly 15 per cent of WHO’s annual budget equivalent to $ 845 million based on last year’s statistics, tried to protect its corporate interests of baby food industry worth about $70 billion at the expense of the health of young children. (The New York Times, July 9, 2018)
America is behind many other developed countries in both breastfeeding rates and related policies that help reduce the number of mothers who are not breastfeeding their young infants despite urging by AAP that such children need to be breastfed at least for six months. It is appalling that only about 50 per cent of American mothers are breastfeeding.
It seems that for the US government the issue of breastfeeding is not as important as it is for the developing nations. The Trump administration is also seen keen to oppose the policies of his predecessor in many areas including the subject of child health. His critics also attribute his delegation’s objection to the WHA resolution that was meant to encourage countries to embrace breastfeeding to president Trump’s consistent efforts to undermine multilateralism to promote “America First “transactional diplomacy. There are examples to give credence to such criticism.
Countries like ours where affordability to have access to food nutrients or baby products is limited and more dangerously contaminated water supply still constrains our abilities to use safe drinkable for mixing with baby milk powder, the quest for alternative to mother’s milk is just unthinkable. From the standpoint of developing countries, the adoption of a resolution by the international health institution like WHO, which incentivises them to embrace breastfeeding by offering technical support to promote children’s health carries added significance.
There is a need for arousing awareness among mothers in Nepal that health benefits of breastfeeding are enormous. Our problems are different from those with high income countries where working mothers are finding it hard to afford time to breastfeed their young infants. In America women are comparatively provided with more facilities for rearing their children longer paid maternity leave, among others.
Moreover, many companies in the US are providing rooms in the offices for working moms with young babies where they can pump the milk from their breasts in bottles which they bring home to feed their children. Besides this for those mothers who lack such facilities, the government wants them to have the choice of using baby food supplements. Seeing the issue of breastfeeding from their lens it may appear justified but these breast milk substitutes can never be the best option because these products supported by aggressive company marketing campaigns do not contain the natural hormones and nutrients contained in mother’s milk. Medical research has growing evidence to prove that mother’s milk is the healthiest for children.
Against the background of Nepal’s prevailing Infant Mortality Rate, which is 27.9 deaths (Infant Mortality Rate is the number of deaths per 1000 live births of children under one year of age) the importance of breastfeeding can never be underestimated. The above statistics have been borrowed from Nepal Demographics Profile 2018, the source of which is google.com . Out of this total figure the infant mortality rate applicable to male is 29.2 compared to female’s 26.6.
Though these figures demonstrate Nepal’s progress in the health sector compared to many of her peers, our economic situation is still dire with millions of pregnant women deprived of pre natal and post natal facilities. There is the shortage of hospitals in rural areas, let alone equipped with trained health officials. Lack of proper knowledge in young mothers, many of whom are uneducated prevents them from truly appreciating the health benefits of breastfeeding.
Andrew Jacob’s detailed reporting carried by The New York Times ( July 9, 2018 ) in the aftermath of acrimonious UN debate in World Health Assembly on the suitability of breast milk and breast milk substitutes presents a staggering figure of 800000 child deaths a year worldwide, which could be prevented by embracing breastfeeding. Furthermore, the world can save $300 billion from reduced health care costs and improved economic outcomes for those nursed on mother’s milk.
A cursory look at the discussion that once looked like killing the WHA resolution to encourage breastfeeding reveals that a country’s corporate interests precede the healthfulness of children. The text approved at last was watered down to appease the US, the world’s superpower which has assumed higher responsibilities by making larger contributions to multilateral institutions, including World Health Organisation (WHO). This is not unique if we analyse the history of UN debates on global issues where the big powers prevail despite UN’s one country one vote system giving equal powers to all members. They manipulate the smaller nations to support them by even threatening to withhold annual aid.
Acknowledging this bitter reality though the resolution adopted in Geneva on WHO’s recommendations on marketing to have the formula products carry messages about risks of not breastfeeding needs appreciation.
From the perspectives of developing countries the WHA document is a welcome move, which look forward to WHO’s technical assistance to promote breastfeeding in their countries.
Dr. Colleen A. Craft correctly said, “the decision to breastfeed is not a lifestyle choice, it is a critical decision for infant welfare”. (TIME, July 23, 2018)