By Sulochana Das
BHUBANESHWAR, India, 5 August, 2009: The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week carries a lot of importance for Orissa, one of the Eastern Indian States.
The theme ‘Breast-feeding: A Vital Emergency Response’ carries special meaning for Orissa because the State experiences emergency situations due to natural disasters at frequent intervals.
Orissa is ranked seventh among the States in the country where 55 percent of the mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth; and over 50 percent of mothers practice exclusive breast feeding in children under six months of age.
However, the mother usually fails to breastfeed her baby when the family gets into trouble during a crisis.
When emergency strikes, conditions conducive to breastfeeding are also often missing. Factors such as shortage of space, overcrowding of places where people take shelter prevent them from breastfeeding the infants mostly during floods and cyclones.
Similar difficulties were faced by a host of mothers who delivered their babies during the communal violence in Kandhamal district in Orissa, in 2008. The relief camps did not any facility for the lactating mothers. But there is some good news this time around.
With support from the National Rural Health Mission and UNICEF, the Orissa State Government has initiated a series of measures to make people aware about breastfeeding of infants and young children during emergencies, as per this year’s World Breastfeeding Week’s theme.
The State Heath and Family Welfare Department organised an awareness programme in Bhubaneswar on the first day of the Week on August 1 to take the mission forward.
The meeting was attended by Anganwadi workers working under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA).
The authorities of other government departments and several voluntary organisations also took part. Dr. Dina Krushna Panda, Joint Director of Rural Health, advised the participants to sensitise the women at the grassroots level about the necessity of breastfeeding of infants and children up to two years of age.
Dr. Panda said that the initiatives will not stop after the Breastfeeding Week, but the Health Department would continue an awareness programme to achieve the goal.
“Breastfeeding remains the only lifeline in emergencies because infants and young children were especially vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, and death in such situations,” he asserted.
According to Dr. Karanveer Singh, Nutrition Officer with UNICEF in Orissa, “Breastfeeding is necessary in emergencies as it is not only a source of energy, it also helps to protect against infections.”
Substituting breast milk with formula/top feed at times of floods and cyclone etc., the lack of clean water, poor sanitation, inadequate cooking utensils and the shortage of fuel only worsen the situation.
Breast milk substitutes if contaminated may carry infection, leading to higher death rates. The impact on women can be tremendous, mentally as well as physically. So in emergency settings, women, especially those with infants, need extra care and attention.
Agencies responding to emergencies should also underline the need for supporting the lactating mothers as only a healthy mother can breastfeed her baby properly.
“An emergency can strike in any place, but in Orissa focus should be given to regions that are more vulnerable to emergencies to protect infants from acute malnutrition, illness and death,” said Dr Singh. Box Item:
The volunteers who go out to help mothers to breastfeed infants in emergencies should also have to generate community support for the lactating mothers. Breastfeeding corners/space may be identified by the community workers to help mothers.
A breastfeeding corner is an area with seats or mats which is set aside for mothers who are breastfeeding, and who need support and help. The advantage for mothers is that being together gives them some privacy and they can help and support each other.