The World Health Organisation celebrated the last week starting from Aug 1st to the 6th as the World Breastfeeding Week. There are quite a large number of programmes which are being done all over the world including institutions like us. The Nursing School is facilitating the celebration in NJH. I used to wonder why there is a week just to promote breastfeeding when it seemed to be the most natural thing for a mother to do after childbirth.
But I was wrong. All along my 16 years in the field of healthcare sciences, it has been very painful to note how subtly breastfeeding has been discouraged in our communities. Just wanted to share 3 experiences.
Scene 1: I vividly remember the day. I was an intern in Obstetrics in Trivandrum. There is this medical representative who turns up and requests me to write prescriptions for some milk substitute for all the patients I was discharging. He was even offering me few free sachets to give to poor patients who I think could not afford to buy the milk substitute. I had to make quite a lot of effort to politely refuse to entertain his request.
Scene 2: One of the mission hospitals I worked in - there was this funny thing I found during rounds in the obstetrics ward. Everyone had a feeding bottle. I tried to investigate and the finding was alarming. It seemed that the hospital had a nursing school attached to it. One of the procedures for the nursing students used to be training mothers with decreased milk secretion on how to bottle feed - basically teaching them to use clean bottles. Now, what was happening was that there were about 5 deliveries per day and a total of 50 students. The poor students had to do their procedure on some patient. And ultimately, every patient ended up buying a bottle and learning how to use it properly. It was hilarious but the truth was that each patient who came to this place went back with the message quite ingrained in them that bottle feeding was the in thing. It took me some time to convince the authorities about the horrible thing which was taking place.
Scene 3: I happened to buy some milk substitute for my son - it was basically to tide over events like travel where feeding sometimes becomes cumbersome. It remained unused. Since it was well packed, I thought I shall give it to one of my paramedical colleagues who recently had a baby. It was almost 6 months later when I bumped into him in some social event that I asked him about his baby. He told me that the baby is doing good. He later asked me how I used to afford the milk substitute which I gave him. It seems that this family had taken my gift of the milk substitute to heart and had been regularly buying it for their kid - and sure it was costing them a fortune maintaining this diet. They thought that since I, the head of the unit had given it to them, it must be something really good that their child should not forfeit the benefit of having it.
Of course, there are quite a lot of rules and regulations about the advertisement and sales of breastfeeding substitutes. However, the companies which market them have already made quite a lot of impact on parents and healthcare providers. It is very common for parents of new-borns to come and ask for substitution feeds. And when I refuse, they give me quite a funny look as if their baby is being refused something very basic.
It sure needs more than a week to convince parents all around the globe that promoting breastfeeding is very crucial for the future of mankind.