Thanks to Bilkani Sangha and about 9,000 other “anganwadi” or female health and childcare workers in villages in Jharkhand, about 1.3 million families are now getting support for proper breastfeeding practices
Anganwadi worker Bilkani Sangha , recalls how she wasn’t allowed to breastfeed her newborn baby for almost two days until all the “dirty, useless” colostrum could be squeezed from her breasts and thrown away. The baby was fed with warm goat milk mixed with honey and jungle herbs.
And the new mother wasn’t given any food to eat for three days, just turmeric water, as she went through a purification ritual that left her almost too weak to finally start breastfeeding. If her newborn lost weight, started to vomit, or suffered from diarrhoea, then people would just blamed bad luck, not unsanitary feeding practices, recalls Sangha.
Thankfully her son survived but Sangha knows plenty of other children who started downward spirals into severe malnutrition and even death in this manner. “That’s why I’m so happy now to be teaching mothers in my village how to do things properly. I tell them breastfeeding is the best and only way to feed new babies,” she says.
At the moment, Sangha is counselling new mother Taramani Devi, 30, with a two-month-old baby girl named Lalita Kumari. Sangha tells Devi to lean back against the hut’s mud-plastered wall and be comfortable. They chat about proper arm positions and the child’s nipple latch.
“Because of earlier sessions with Sangha, Devi knew to start breastfeeding within one hour of her baby’s delivery. She also made sure to eat lentils, essential nutrients and rice for her own strength and milk production. In this way, Lalita Kumari “extra protection” from her colostrum, which Sangha told her was akin to the baby’s first immunization
Sangha and Devi’s counselling relationship is one link in an intricate chain of support for women and children that is extending slowly across India. In Jharkhand, the program is called Dular, which means care and love. It’s a cycle of assistance that starts with prenatal counselling, moves through birth, breastfeeding and babyhood, and continues until women have their own children.
The Dular program is now running in five districts of Jharkhand and a recent evaluation found the mothers in Dular villages were almost three times more likely than other women to exclusively breastfeed newborns and avoid old practices. The women had significantly (four times) higher rates of colostrum feeding, and the percentage of underweight children was much less, too.
At present, funding given by IKEA’s Social Initiative is supporting UNICEF and the government through a three-year project, started in 2009, to further extend the program to 22 million Indian children. Credit: UNICEF India/2010/ Graham Crouch
An essential element will ensure an additional two million newborns properly initiate breastfeeding and continue exclusively for six months to improve infants’ survival, growth and development. Credit: UNICEF India/2010/ Graham Crouch