ISLAMABAD: Appropriate feeding practices are essential for the nutrition, growth, development and survival of infants.
Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and thereafter should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues up to two years and beyond.
Minister of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar stressed this at an event held Wednesday to mark the World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7) to raise awareness regarding the benefits of breastfeeding.
She said today the realisation in the world is more elaborate after so many studies conducted on the benefits of breastfeeding and the recent Lancet series on breastfeeding, which stresses upon the need to improve exclusive breastfeeding in both low-income and high-income countries to promote child survival and health.
After the 69th World Health Assembly set targets to improve breastfeeding, Pakistan enacted legislation in 2002 and 2009, such as the Breastfeeding Rules formulated and endorsed by the Health Ministry. She admitted that enforcement of these ‘rules’ remains a challenge.
The minister pointed out that one major challenge is the role of health care providers in prescribing and promoting the sale and use of breast milk substitutes or formula milk.
At 42 per cent, formula use is at an all-time high in Pakistan, costing millions of rupees to parents who are misguided by false advertising and even unscrupulous healthcare practitioners, she informed.
“Pakistan has an alarmingly low rate of exclusive breastfeeding with only 38 per cent of children under six months of age being fed by their mothers,” said UNICEF Representative Angela Kearney.
Exclusive breastfeeding rates are lowest amongst educated women in the upper socioeconomic strata, noted Dr Tabish Hazir, Head of Paediatrics at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences and Principal Investigator ay South Asian Infant Feeding Research Network ARI Research Cell . “Bottle feeding rates are highest amongst working women, upper social strata, urban residents, and women seeking care with health professionals. There is a need to employ behaviour change strategies to discourage this trend by reaching out to women from all educational and social backgrounds.”
In Pakistan, where neonate and infant mortality rates are high, breastfeeding within the first hour of birth can make a vital difference for a child’s chance of survival, the speakers suggested.
The longer breastfeeding is delayed, the higher the risk of death in the first month of life. Delaying breastfeeding by even a few hours after birth increases the risk of dying in the first 28 days of life by 40 per cent. Delaying it by 24 hours or more increases that risk by 80 per cent, and babies who are not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those who are fed only breastmilk, they said.