Enhancing optimal infant feeding practices in India

Enhancing optimal infant feeding practices in India

Appropriate Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices are critical to improving nutrition, child survival and development. Major killers of infants in India include neonatal infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 53 per cent of pneumonia and 55 per cent of diarrhoea deaths are attributable to poor feeding practices during the first six months of life.

This paper examines Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices in India and how it can be improved in order to improve nutrition among children. The paper state that these practices include initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, introduction of complementary feeding at six months and ensuring that children receive adequate complementary foods both appropriate to their age in terms of quality and quantity along with continued breast feeding for two years or beyond.

The paper states that according to the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) India lags behind in almost all ten measurement indices stating that there are considerable gaps in Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BGHI), maternity protection, community outreach and information support. Others are infant feeding during emergencies, HIV and in terms of national policy, programmes and coordination.

The authors conclude by making the following recommendations to improve infant feeding practices in India:

  • Provide a ‘service guarantee’ for infant feeding counselling both at family and facility level;
  • Allocate a budget for enhancing IYCF practices;
  • Establish a clear coordination mechanism at the centre, state and district levels for capacity building monitoring and supervision on IYCF practices;
  • Craft and implement a universal policy for maternity entitlements and provision of crèches;
  • Strengthen awareness and enforcement of the IMS Act, especially enforcement of the prohibition of all direct an indirect efforts by baby food companies and their ‘front organisations;’ and

Support research-qualitative and quantitative, at the state, district and block levels on ITCF practices to provide empirical data that informs policy and action.

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