Only 41 percent of Indian mothers initiate early breastfeeding. There is a lack of awareness of the benefits of breast milk in India, an NGO said Thursday.
"There is low awareness about the benefits of early and exclusive breastfeeding in poor as well as affluent sections of society in India. Mother's milk is effectively a child's first vaccination, and can make the difference between life and death," said Shireen Miller, director, advocacy and policy of the NGO Save the Children.
To raise awareness on the benefits of breastfeeding, the NGO is marking breastfeeding week from August 1 to 7. Celebrity mothers will be roped in to spread awareness during this week.
"I always knew that breastfeeding was good for a baby but I never knew how important colostrum (first thick yellow milk) is to protect him from so many diseases," said actress Nandita Das.
Experts also suggest that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months can prevent malnutrition in children.
In the national capital, only 12 percent of women exclusively breastfed their children for the first six months; that is the second-lowest figure in the country, after Haryana, where it was just 9.4 percent, the NGO said, adding that advertising from manufacturers of formula foods could be to blame.
"It is surprising that many mothers go for substitutes, but are not aware that breastfeeding has several benefits, and also heightens the emotional and physical well-being of both the mother and the baby," Miller said.
The NGO said 16.5 lakh children die every year of easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea. Early initiation of breastfeeding alone could save the lives of at least 13 percent of babies, the NGO said.
The union ministry of women and child development ran an advertisement campaign Thursday stating: "Only mother's milk for fist 6 months. Give no other food."