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Nature’s way, we should obey
" A group of caregivers and community volunteers from Nandurbar watched with sheer astonishment a newborn suckle its mother’s breast on its own. "

By Vidya Kulkarni

A group of caregivers and community volunteers from Nandurbar watched with sheer astonishment a newborn suckle its mother’s breast on its own. The newborn when placed in skin-to-skin contact between its mother’s breasts, soon after birth, took the first feed on its own within just ten minutes! This method, known as ‘Breast Crawl’ promises early initiation of breastfeeding and proves to be a breakthrough to overcome commonly encountered problems in early breastfeeding practices.

While benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding are widely known and the practice is generally encouraged, no specific method for starting such breastfeeding is recommended. These practices vary from place to place. It also happens that mothers, birth attendants, although well aware of ‘what’ needs to be done, are not very sure about ‘how’ to do it. At times, ANMs or birth attendant’s complaint that the mother was unable to lactate and hence early breastfeeding did not take place. Thus early breastfeeding, which ensures a baby’s immunity and nutrition, suffers due to various reasons. Now with Breast Crawl, many such problems can be successfully addressed.    

The benefits of Breast Crawl, which is an evidence-based and field tested method for early initiation of breastfeeding, however, go much beyond its apparent outcome. Therefore, on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week 2007, UNICEF, WHO, WABA together with the scientific community are determined to promote Breast Crawl to incur its benefits for mothers and newborns across the world.

UNICEF Maharashtra has already facilitated partnerships with all stakeholders including the State Government, State Nutrition Mission, the Integrate Child Development Services, Public Health Department, Bhavishya Alliance, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, NGOs, CBOs and several academic institutions to push this major initiative.

This includes training of government and NGO functionaries on the basics of IYCN (Infant and Young Child Nutrition), a programme supported by UNICEF in the state. As part of creating wider awareness on this method a film and dossier, giving step-by-step guide to follow this method and their reasoning is also being disseminated. The six minute film captures the live process of Breast Crawl with specifics of each step.

Elaborating on this revolutionary method Rajlakshmi Nair, UNICEF informed, “Contrary to the belief that a newborn is not able to do anything on his/her own, the baby is at highest alert mood soon after birth. The baby remains alert for half an hour and if not properly activated during this period, falls asleep. Therefore soon after delivery and after the baby has cried and started breathing well, breastfeeding can be initiated by stimulating alertness of the newborn. Breast Crawl, is a simple and systematic method to achieve this.” 

This nature’s wonder was known for years but not practiced as its potential was not so far recognized and explored. It was originally described in 1987 and later pioneered by Dr. Marshall Klaus and Dr. Avroy Fanaroff. Inspired by this technique, Mumbai based Dr. Prashant Gangal of Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India tried it out for the first time in India.

Sharing this exiting experience Dr. Gangal said “We tried out Breast Crawl at Grace Maternity and Nursing Home at Kandivali in Mumbai for the first time. It was an amazing experience not only for me and the parents but also the entire staff.”  Breast Crawl generated such an excitement and motivation that the method continued to be used routinely. Dr. Gangal, and others motivated by him, took the initiative to pilot this method in Nandurbar district and then documented it for dissemination through a film and dossier.

Dr. Gangal said, “It helps to keep the baby warm. The baby starts getting colostrums as the first feed, which has high concentration of antibodies (immunity). Baby starts getting colonized by safe germs (bacterial flora) from the mother. Both these offer protection against infections and hence are important for the baby’s survival. Mothers are benefited as well. Breast Crawl helps uterine contraction, faster expulsion of the placenta, reduces maternal blood loss and prevents anemia.”

At present over 46 percent of babies are malnourished, primarily due to improper feeding practices. Early initiation of breastfeeding will minimize at least 22 percent malnutrition. Thus Breast Crawl has the potential to improve initiation rates, breastfeeding success and ultimately reducing neonatal, infant and under five morbidity and mortality.

The biggest advantage of this method, Dr. Gangal concludes, is that it ensures better mother-infant bonding. This certainly is an immeasurable and long term benefit one should not miss by being ignorant to this method.

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