According to the National Family Health Survey-4 around 50% of infants were breastfed within the first hour of birth in 2015-16, compared to 27% a decade ago. In 2005-06, around 47% of infants received the recommended 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, while in 2015-16, the number increased by a mere 8 per cent and went up to 55%.
Due to a lack of education and superstitions, breastfeeding is considered as a taboo in Indian villages even today. Bu in rural Gujarat, there are women who are changing their traditional lifestyles to ensure they bring up healthy babies.
Dhaniben Koli from a hamlet in Rapar taluka of Kutch district welcomed her son Vishal, four months ago. Vishal was underweight at the time of birth. Dhaniben belongs to a Koli caste whose main occupation is coal making and daily labour. Due to her hectic schedule, she breastfed her baby only when he was awake or crying. She was clueless about the fact that a baby must be breastfed for at least 8 to 10 times in 24 hours.
CRY along with its partner Gram Swaraj Sangh made efforts to ensure that Dhaniben’s baby was breastfed adequately, by planning her diet and rest regime. For lactation, a dish called ‘katla’ which is a mixture of ghee, gum resin, coconut among a few other ingredients was fed to her to improve the milk flow for child. Post-delivery, baby Vishal’s progress was monitored at the Public Health Centre (PHC) along with the other doctors.
Later, Dhaniben convinced her family that she needed to rest instead of doing excessive physical labour work, post-delivery. Her family members supported her and even reminded her to breastfeed the child at regular intervals. Now, Vishal is a strong and healthy baby weighing 3.5 kilograms and is monitored by anganwadi workers thrice a week.
Another new mother Shantiben Koli informed, “I breastfeed my baby at least 9 times a day and I have been noticing that ever since I started breastfeeding him regularly, he is growing into a healthy baby. I have been told that my breastmilk will keep the baby away from sickness, which is why I do not miss out on breastfeeding even while I work in the fields.”
Following Dhaniben’s and Shantiben’s footsteps, Bhartiben Vaniya too introduced changes in her diet and lifestyle. “I want to keep my child strong and healthy. I feel it is vital to breastfeed the newborn at least upto 6 months. This will make them strong and immune to any sickness, said Bhartiben.
GSS Project Coordinator Dharmendra Hothi explained that regular and timely breastfeeding is essential for child’s health and development. This understanding is developing over time among the people of Kutch. We have taken steps in creating awareness about breastfeeding amongst the people residing here.
Kreeanne Rabadi, Regional Director, CRY-West, opined that that there is an immediate need to create awareness and educate people on breastfeeding. She further informed, “Across our projects in Gujarat and other states we are actively involved in advocating the benefits of breastfeeding. And we are happy to see that such positive changes are taking place.”