Why Newborns in Pratapgarh are not Fed Mother’s Milk

Parents don't initiate breastfeeding immediately after birth due to the prevalent traditions, myths and lack of knowledge
An infant with a frontline worker

Dhariyawad block of Pratapgarh District, Rajasthan, is known for its five rivers. It has 166 villages and a population of around 2 lakh. In one of these villages, Mandvi, we meet Suraj, the grandmother of 6-month-old Gudiya.

Even though she is 65 and suffers from backache, Suraj is determined to visit the Anganwadi Centre on MCHN Days and when take-home Rations are distributed. She does this to ensure that her granddaughter and daughter-in-law receive the services and nutrition supplements the Anganwadi Centre offers.

Her son is a migrant labourer working in Kuwait. Due to the pandemic, he is yet to visit home and meet his only daughter. “My son is not here, so I have to take care of his daughter,” says Suraj. She makes sure to fulfil her caregiving responsibilities.

However, a sense of responsibility is not enough. Lack of knowledge often leads to harmful practices. Suraj says, “When Gudiya was born, her mother breastfed her. We also gave her honey so that she has a sweet voice and ghutti.” Feeding janam ghutti (gripe water) and honey immediately after birth is an age-old practice in these areas. Such is its prevalence that in neighbouring Chhoti Sadri block, even an Anganwadi Worker promoted gripe water rather than an exclusive diet of mother’s milk!

People here believe that children cry because of acidity and upset stomach. They give gripe water to relieve these symptoms. There is also a belief that it helps with teething. For some families, the person feeding the child is more important than what is fed. They ask an elderly or distinguished person to feed the newborn due to the belief that the child imbibes their good qualities. This can have dire consequences. The ingredients of gripe water are mostly not standardised and can cause infections and loose motions. They may contain sedatives like morphine, which can be harmful.

Rather than give these, the child should be fed mother’s milk immediately after delivery. Initiating exclusive breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal mortality. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months reduces an infant’s chances of contracting gastrointestinal infections. We explained this to Suraj so that she could make an informed decision about what’s best for her granddaughter and not give in to tradition.

RajPusht’s POSHAN Champions are counselling mothers and their families to help them adopt the recommended childcare practices. We are also training frontline workers to reinforce these messages. With these sustained efforts, we seek to promote the health and nutrition of both mothers and children.

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