Children Need To Be Nurtured Naturally, Not Artificially

Globally, nearly 7 million children under the age of 5 years die every year--two thirds of them before celebrating even their first birthday. Most of these deaths are due to preventable causes like pneumonia, diarrhea and new born respiratory infections and one third of all the under 5 deaths are related to maternal and child under nutrition. A simple intervention comprising early initiation (within the first hour of birth) of breastfeeding, that is continued exclusively for the first six months of life, and later supplemented by complementary feeding, can reduce neonatal mortality by as much as 20%. Yet more than 60% of the world’s infants are deprived of exclusive breastfeeding.

While speaking at the 1st World Breastfeeding Conference held recently in Delhi, India, Dr Francesco Branca, Director, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, WHO, exhorted all member states of the World Health Assembly to take appropriate measures for increasing the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the 1st six months of an infant’s life from the existing 38% (a number which has remained static over the last few years) to 50% by 2025 by adopting breastfeeding promotion policies and enforcing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (the Code) with the aim of protecting, promoting and supporting appropriate infant and young child feeding practices with a view to tackle the global nutrition challenges. The Code is a set of recommendations to regulate marketing of breast milk substitutes like formula milk, feeding bottles and teats. It is part of the response and awareness regarding poor infant feeding practices which can negatively affect children’s growth, health and development.

Dr Branca listed the pancha sila or the 5 point programme necessary to reach this target of 50%:

(i) Baby friendly hospital environment through the baby friendly hospital initiative (BFHI) for early initiation of breastfeeding. There are good examples from Philippines and Mexico where this initiative forms one of the criterions for getting government certification for a hospital
(ii) One–to--one breastfeeding counseling should reach women early in postpartum care through properly trained health workers -- a whole package for pre- and post- natal care
(iii) Monitoring enforcement of the Code and report any violations by baby food companies (as is being done in Philippines and some other countries too). Defaulting companies should be penalized and also shamed publicly
(iv) Strengthening of maternity protection through longer postpartum maternity leave for women as is happening in Chile and Vietnam where 6 months of leave is given
(v) Mainstreaming of breastfeeding protection, promotion and support into laws and regulations with economic incentives.

To these five pillars one can add a sixth dimension of advocacy and social marketing in the population about the benefits accruing out of breastfeeding in so much as reducing the risk of death and illness, as well as malnutrition in children.

Dr Nicholas Alipui, Director UNICEF Programmes, lamented that a large majority of childhood deaths due to under nutrition, (in synergy with infectious diseases), occur in the poorer countries. And yet we tend to overlook the easy solution of exclusive breastfeeding which does not depend upon social status and is the best and cheapest investment in child survival, growth and development. He made a passionate appeal to start a global campaign to energize the breastfeeding movement and protect it from industry interference by having a common agenda with a shared vision of change. We should no longer let exclusive breastfeeding feeding remain an orphan issue but make it everybody’s responsibility so that it no longer remains anybody’s problem. We must work in partnership, with cohesive advocacy efforts, to counter the market industry forces and protect mother’s milk from the commercial sector by prohibiting all kinds of promotion of artificial/commercial foods for infants and children.

James Grant, a former Executive Director, UNICEF has very rightly said that, “Breastfeeding is a natural “safety net” against the worst effects of poverty. It takes the infant out of poverty for those first few months in order to give the child a fairer start in life”

Surely there can be no better investment than putting mother’s milk in a baby, as it reaps rich dividends for all by reducing child mortality and malnutrition and by benefitting maternal health.

Shobha Shukla - CNS

December 2012

(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She received her editing training in Singapore, has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also authored a book on childhood TB, co-authored a book (translated in three languages) "Voices from the field on childhood pneumonia", reports on Hepatitis C and HIV treatment access issues, and MDR-TB roll-out. Email:, website: