Breastfeeding is a complex process that involves both psychological and physiological aspects. However, despite its known benefits, Indian mothers face numerous challenges that make breastfeeding difficult. While cultural and traditional practices, educational gaps, and lack of sensitization and outreach by healthcare systems have all contributed to the current state of breastfeeding, the economic status of mothers is also a significant factor. In addition, both parents' education levels can impact the knowledge and attitudes towards breastfeeding.
Despite the celebration of breastfeeding in our culture, there is still a lack of acknowledgement of the concerns of new mothers. In contemporary lifestyles, where both partners work, breastfeeding has become inconvenient. Many women are asked to stop breastfeeding or leave public areas if they want to continue, and there is an evident lack of adequate facilities for breastfeeding in public places. Moreover, medical staff often lacks the training to offer the necessary assistance in this regard, and bottles and formulas are frequently prescribed as a "quick fix."
Maternal employment can also reduce the duration of breastfeeding, as more women are going back to work after 6 months of maternity leave. However, there is a lack of support for breastfeeding in the workplace, including the absence of nursing rooms, on-site daycare, and the lack of convenient locations to express and store breast milk while working. Flexible scheduling and breastfeeding regulations are also uncommon in the workplace.
Both the mother and baby benefit from breastfeeding, and early and exclusive breastfeeding can lower neonatal mortality chances, promote healthy brain development, improve cognitive function, and is associated with higher educational achievement by the time the child is five. In addition, studies by UNICEF show that optimal breastfeeding from infancy to age two has the potential to avert approximately 800,000 fatalities in children under five in poor countries.
To support breastfeeding, mothers should ensure they remain hydrated, have a balanced diet that incorporates healthy fats, folates, proteins, and iron, and continue taking prenatal vitamins until done with breastfeeding. However, despite government efforts, it may not be enough to create a mother and child-friendly environment that supports and promotes breastfeeding. It is time to drive positive association and implement proper policies to initiate mother-supportive measures, including in the private sector, which employs women.
Overall, the narrative around breastfeeding needs to change from being a societal taboo to a positive practice that is supported and promoted by all. By addressing the concerns of new mothers and creating a supportive environment that encourages and facilitates breastfeeding, we can ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our children.