27 Jan 2014

Breast Feeding is the Best: a Parable on Breast Feeding

This year Breast Feeding Week is being celebrated from today. This year’s theme is “Breast Feeding support – Close to mothers”. Breast feeding support should be close tomothers, says the Breast Feeding promotion Network of India, because information and support are crucial to the practice of optimal Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF). That means, to practice proper breast feeding, the mother and the child should come as close as possible and they must be assured of personal and equipped support.

Here is a parable that illustrates the significance of breast feeding and good child hood health practices.

The King and Queen of a country, though enveloped in wealth and luxury, were extremely saddened because of the lack of a male heir to the royal lineage. After a few years of married life, they were blessed with a baby boy. The country erupted in celebrations that lasted for more than a month.

The King honored all the rishis and scholars of the country; besides, he announced life long, free education and health care for all the children born on the same day as the royal heir! All the courtiers were awarded lavish bonuses and their families were invited to the most sumptuous feasts that lasted more than a week.

The scene shifts to some months later. The royal court was in session. The court itself was the last word in pomp and luxury. Even the pillars of the hall were decorated with jewels of myriad colours, it seemed! The hall itself was interspersed with servants holding large feather fans, on which were tastefully painted with natural colours, various scenes from the valiant life of the King! ! Outside, on both sides of the magnificent entrance to the hall, stood majestic, caparisoned elephants, swaying to the rhythm of glorious nadaswaram music, being played by the most senior and talented artists of the country! ! !

The King was seated in his royal throne; the queen was seated on a smaller throne, placed beside the King’s seat of power. Beside them, on a shining cradle, lay the prince. The faces of both the king and the queen were pale and drawn. They were not even conversing with each other. Tension and worry were palpably written on their royal visages.

The problem was that the royal prince had not exhibited any of the land marks of healthy growth like attempting to sit, stand or toddle. He had completed seven months recently. The King had called all his courtiers and they were asked to suggest ways and means out of this quandary.

They, in their turn, suggested seeking the advice of various doctors. Some, who rushed in on hearing the royal writ, were quacks of doubtful reputation; some were clearly hacks, only after money! A few followed the ayurvedic system, while others were votaries of the homeopathic system. There were a few who insisted on the natural way to health. Each contradicted the other, while the King, in his sadness and irritation, contradicted every one!

This continued for quite a few days, with no change in the health condition of the prince. Then, it so happened, that one of the senior courtiers chanced to meet up with a revered old sanyasin who was reputed to have solved various problems of very tricky nature. The courtier invited the sanyasin to the royal court.

He bowed before the King, smiled benevolently at the queen and then bend down to examine the prince. The little prince was lying, turned to one side, breathing very shallowly. He was very pale and there was almost no flesh on the body.

The sanyasin straightened up and looked at their Royal Highnesses with intense eyes which mirrored deep understanding. Then he took out some holy ash from the intricately carved silver box he held in his hand, spread it on his palm and blew over it with great force. The hall seemed to reverberate with the sound of the sage’s breath. The ashes flew hither and thither. But a considerable part fell on to a spot near the royal throne.
Lo behold, from the ashes arose a handsome boy of may be four or five years age. The boy smiled engagingly, bowed before the King and started talking in a sweet and attention grabbing voice. He explained all the basic health precautions that the pregnant mother should take; the importance of feeding the new born child with the mother’s first milk; the significance of periodically weighing the child and ensuring that all the land marks of growth are achieved within the specific time frame etc.

WHO and UNICEF, both have recommended early initiation of breast feeding within one hour of birth and exclusive breast feeding till the child is six months old. While early initiation reduces newborn mortality, exclusive breast feeding is the best way to be insulated against childhood gastro intestinal infections.

Adults who were breastfed are as babies less likely to be overweight. Children and adolescents who have been breastfed perform better in intelligence tests. Breastfeeding also contributes to the health and well-being of mothers - it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies.

Recognizing the critical importance of nutrition for health and development the WHO has approved a plan that stipulates for 50% of babies all over the world should be exclusively breast fed by 2025. At present only 38% babies are being reared only on breast milk. WHO strongly believes that breast feeding is a public health initiative.

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