Pakistan is undergoing a malnutrition crisis. The initiation of which starts from the exceedingly early moments in life when a child is born.
As suggested by experts and countless research, the utilisation of breastfeeding in these early days plays an essential role for the child’s holistic health in the future.
A newborn’s only source of nutrition is the mother’s milk. A baby’s needs increase as they grow, but when they are deprived of essential nutrients, they may have low energy levels and exhibit faltering growth. One of the key indicators of lack of nutrients in a newborn baby is a decrease in weight as compared to the birth weight, which is an alarming sign.
Mother’s milk contains pre-biotics which helps boost immunity. It also contains amino acids that help induce sleep in babies. Additionally, it has several hormones which regulate appetite and enhance the bond between mother and baby. In Pakistan, 37.7% mothers can feed their infants for up to six months. Statistics indicate that 44% of children in Pakistan show stunted growth i.e., body weight less than normal, decreased height, poor cognition and repeated infections.
Initiation of early breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age has been known to reduce cases of stunted growth in children and is a plausible solution for this issue in Pakistan.
There are several challenges a mother faces such as inability to feed the baby in the presence of family members or in public due to lack of privacy, inappropriate position to feed, and discomfort while feeding. Many women experience pain during feeding because of incorrect position of the baby’s mouth or poor latch. Pain is one of the most common reasons mothers report for discontinuing breastfeeding.
The psychological stress in lactating mothers due to postpartum depression also affects the milk supply to the infant. They can produce a much higher amount of milk when they are mentally relaxed and content. Hence, the mother needs encouragement to practice relaxation techniques and have food and water for herself when she is feeding the baby. In addition, paternity leaves should grant and encouraged for fathers so they can equally support their spouses in the early days of newborn care.
Breastfeeding is known to reduce possibilities of infections and diabetes in children, and also the risk of ovarian cancer in mothers. It helps the uterus to contract back and return to its normal size post-delivery and can create a stronger bond between mother and baby. Recent studies suggest in addition to contact between mother and baby being beneficial, skin-to-skin contact of the baby with the father also has a positive impact on the father’s brain.
Lactation consultancy model is a midway between gynecology and pediatrics clinics where a patient can come to seek solutions related to lactation issues specifically. This service should be encouraged in Pakistan to combat and reduce malnutrition in infants. A specialized clinical where mothers with lactation issues can seek consultation in privacy from certified consultants would be very encouraging and helpful especially for first-time mothers.
As we know, in Pakistan people tend to listen more to the advice of elders in their family or people facing similar issues, which can often misdirect them. A good lactation consultancy model could pave the way for people who are in need through certified knowledge and training.
A lactation clinic requires a competent consultant with expert training and knowledge to help people in resolving all issues related to breastfeeding. For this, in Pakistan, several policies should be introduced to make people aware of this service. Firstly, the proper position title for lactation consultants with a decent pay scale should be given. Lactation training programmes should be introduced at university-level especially for midwives. A well-equipped infrastructure should be built in tertiary care settings with affordable fees so maximum people can benefit from it.
The awareness of lactation clinics and its importance should be promoted. This way we can dramatically decline the malnutrition rate in Pakistan for infants and ensure a lifestyle with optimal health for them in early developmental stages.
The authors did not disclose any conflict of interest and their viewpoint is personal.