Breastfeeding practices in India have improved in the past few years but efforts are needed to sustain these and address issues like maternity leave and other benefits besides ensuring mother-friendly workplace, the UNICEF has said. “In India, between 2006 and 2013, there has been an improvement in the breastfeeding rates. The latest data show that 44.6 per cent children are put to breastfeeding within one hour of birth and 64.9 per cent children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed,” UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Gayatri Singh told PTI.
She cited the provisional figures of the Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14 conducted by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. “While there is progress, efforts are required to sustain and strengthen the breastfeeding practices,” she stressed. The first week of August (1-7) is globally celebrated as the World Breastfeeding Week highlighting the critical importances of breastfeeding for children. “Breastfeeding and work Let’s make it work’ has been the theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week. “This year’s theme emphasises the need for better support systems and policies to enable working mothers to breastfeed,” Singh said.
Talking about the problems related to breastfeeding faced by working women, she referred to the “absence of paid maternity leave or other maternity benefits” as a major one. “In India, working mothers always face the pressure to return to work in the absence of paid maternity leave or other maternity benefits. Besides, lack of mother-friendly workplace, poor access to infant and child care facility close to the workplace and poor access to information on the maternity entitlements are adding to the woes of the working-mothers in the country,” she said.
Women who have adequate maternity benefits value their employers, leading to increased productivity, job satisfaction and loyalty, Singh said. The supportive national polices and legislation such as paid maternity leave and breastfeeding breaks to enable working mothers to continue breastfeeding should be expanded to cover women working in the unorganised face even greater barriers to breastfeeding, she argued.
Incidentally, India’s maternity protection status in the last seven years has come down to 3.5 from 5 on a scale of 10. “Maternity protection status has remained more or less same over the years. Therefore, more efforts are needed to improve legislations on maternity benefits to cover women working in private and informal sector,” Singh said, adding that the state governments must extend the provision of paid maternity leave for six months to cover its employees.
The Indira Gandhi Matriteva Sahyog Yojna, a conditional cash maternity benefit scheme, currently under implementation in 52 districts also needs to be expanded to cover all the districts in the country, she further stressed. When asked how UNICEF has been protecting and promoting breastfeeding in India, Singh said, “The government of India has laws, policies and programmes to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. UNICEF supports national and state governments in the development and implementation of infant and young child feeding policies and plans for promoting optimal breastfeeding.
“Communication and advocacy activities on breastfeeding are also a key component of UNICEF’s support. We also support governments to design of strategies for social and behavior change communication and in the implementation of the strategies through multiple communication channels,” she said.
Not only these, the UNICEF supports training of health and community workers to improve their knowledge and counselling skills, Singh added stressing that early skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies increase the chances of successful breastfeeding. Additionally, awareness generation activities meetings, mass media campaigns and behaviour change communication programmes have been undertaken on the importance of optimal breastfeeding for the survival, growth and development of children, she suggested.
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