Breastfeeding is a critical intervention that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five. Newborns who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life have fewer infections and respiratory illnesses than newborns who are fed other foods. They also have significantly less frequent cases of diarrhea and diarrheal disease, a leading cause of death among young infants. On average, infants younger than six months who are not breastfed are three to four times more likely to die than those who receive breastmilk.
In August, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week, which was an opportunity to galvanize global support for the protection and promotion of breastfeeding worldwide. In India, Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad hosted its own event to highlight the critical role that hospitals, healthcare workers, families, organizations, and governments can play in helping mothers understand the need for early and exclusive breastfeeding.
More than 100 doctors, nurses, and patients at Niloufer Hospital joined the Director Medical Education, Telangana to form a human chain across the hospital. Dr. Ramesh Reddy, Director Medical Education, Telangana, participated and kicked off the event at Niloufer, which is one of the hospitals involved in the Safe Care, Saving Lives program a maternal, newborn, and child health program focused on improving the quality of care for mother and child.
ACCESS Health International organized the event at Niloufer Hospital in collaboration with the National Neonatology Forum, Telangana state chapter. Dr. Ramesh Dampuri, Resident Medical Officer, and Dr. Vasudeva Murali, the President of the National Neonatology Forum, Telangana State Chapter addressed the gathering and highlighted the importance of working to sustain breastfeeding together. Medical Superintendent Dr. Murali Krishna also participated in the event.
“Breastfeeding has many benefits for mothers and babies — saving lives, improving child health, and protecting mothers against ovarian and breast cancer deaths,” said Dr. Reddy in his address. “There is strong evidence that demonstrates the benefits of breastfeeding for children and women in high and low income countries alike. ACCESS Health with its Safe Care, Saving Lives program has been supporting early initiation of breastfeeding. The opening of the new breastmilk bank at Niloufer Hospital will also help support this cause.”
Current estimates suggest that only around 41 percent children in India are breastfed within one hour of birth and only about half of all mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. In Telangana, just 37 percent of newborns are breastfed within one hour and two thirds of mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding plays a significant role in improving nutrition, education, and maternal and child health and survival. With more than 90 percent of all births taking place in healthcare facilities, creating an exclusive area in hospitals where mothers are taught to breastfeed their newborns early and often is more urgent than ever.
Dr Ajitkumar Sudke, Director of Quality and Process Improvement at ACCESS Health International said, “With proper support, nurses and hospital staff can be important advocates for breastfeeding. Labor and delivery staff are with new mothers when they first meet their newborns and can help reassure them of their ability to nurse their babies. Our Safe Care, Saving Lives, Quality Improvement Collaborative works on positively impacting survival outcomes through breastfeeding with few minutes of a baby’s birth.”
Dr. Himabindu Singh, Head of the Department of Neonatology, Niloufer Hospital detailed their initiatives. She elaborated how the Department of Obstetrics and Neonatology, together with the help of ACCESS Health team, are working towards increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to 80 percent and increasing rates of early initiation of breastfeeding.
The continuation of programs like these is critical for a nationwide advocacy to encourage new mothers from all walks of life to choose breast feeding. The event at Niloufer Hospital set an example to more health centers and hospitals across the nation to create a wider impact on something as natural and critical to babies as being breastfed.