Mother’s milk vs the rest
Rinku Devi, 30, gave birth to her fourth child a week ago. Though she hasn’t studied beyond primary school, she does know her entitlements as a mother. She travelled from her village, Jirwa in Saharsa district, to the clinic at Patarghat in a government ambulance. She claimed the government incentive for giving birth in a government clinic. And she is clear about the need to get her child immunised. Her labourer husband doesn’t earn much, but has ensured that Rinku Devi has a litre of milk and red lentils every day. It’s good for lactation, she’s told.
What has she been feeding the child till now? “I’m giving this one the same stuff I fed the others for the first five days: sugar-water,” says Rinku Devi of her youngest.
When she is told it’s not advisable to give the baby anything but mother’s milk for the first six months, a furrow of doubt creases her forehead. “Nothing else?” she asks. When a number of people gathered around to reinforce the point, she says softly, “I wish I’d known earlier….the elders in the village tell me otherwise, and I was fed sugar-water as a baby too.”
Nauki Devi in Khagaria district’s Dhabauli village also says the same, no one has told her otherwise. She says she gave her child cow’s milk as well as mother’s milk for the first one and a half years.
Like Rinku Devi and Nauki Devi, one in five women in Bihar does not know about the need for exclusive breastfeeding in the early months of motherhood.
Breast milk is the best present a mother can give to her baby at birth. Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. No other food or beverage, not even water, is required. Breast milk has enough water (87 per cent) to quench the baby’s thirst.
Exclusively breastfed children are more likely to be smart at school and successful in life. Breast milk is the cheapest and the best nutrient for babies under six month.
People in rural Bihar often feed their babies sugar water, cow’s milk, goat’s milk etc., which cost them more money and deprives the baby of the essential nutrients it needs from breast milk.
Mothers are often discouraged from breastfeeding when babies are sick. But breast milk can protect babies against infections such as diarrhea and pneumonia. If the baby falls ill, the mother should breastfeed the baby more.
Mothers-in-law and village elders can be critical influencers in ensuring that nothing other than breast milk is given to a newborn or a baby under six months of age.
Mothers should be encouraged to allow the baby to finish all the milk in one breast before moving to the other. The ‘hind’ milk at the end of the feed is nutrient-rich, and draining the breasts encourages the production of more milk.