Promotion of baby food under vigil

Centre plans to keep a check on inappropriate promotion of baby food items that tend to affect and discourage breastfeeding practice, especially in urban India.However, with Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992 (IMS Act) in existence, the ministry hasn’t received any complaints under it, till date. The Act protects and promotes breastfeeding and ensures proper use of infant foods. This act also provides for the regulation and irrational promotion of production, supply and distribution of infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles and infant foods.

To nab the violators of the Act, government has launched ‘Stanpan Suraksha’, a mobile application. Developed by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), the app has a baby food promotion reporting mechanism where any person can click a photograph of “inappropriate” promotion around them of baby food and related equipment and send it to BPNI. BPNI will document and analyse the reports and follow up with required action. This feature will empower people to keep check on the baby food industry.

As most of the programmes to promote breastfeeding are limited to urban women, government felt that rural women are also required to be covered. As Anganwadi and ASHA workers can play a pivotal role in this, the app can also reach them.“Undermining of breastfeeding practices is rampant in the country. The app will be instrumental in gathering incremental evidence to report on promotion of baby foods from remote locations. The app has a city-wise database of trained breastfeeding counsellor who can educate and provide assistance to mothers during antenatal and postnatal period,” said Dr Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator of BPNI and Regional Coordinator of IBFAN Asia. Other features include sign up option for mothers who wish to become a breastfeeding counsellor, pledging for petition and donation.

The figure of babies getting breastfed in first hour after birth is dismal in the country. On top of it, breastfeeding programmes are running at a snail’s pace. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), has recently launched “MAA-Mother’s Absolute Affection” programme in the country to improve breastfeeding coverage and appropriate breastfeeding practices in the country. Under the programme, greater emphasis is laid on capacity building of the health workers on lactation management at both community and facility levels and 360 degree Information Education and Communication (IEC) campaign to create awareness and educate young women about the benefits of breastfeeding.

“At least 79 per cent of the babies are delivered in institutions, out of which only 45 per cent are given breast milk in the first hour. Till now only ten states have implemented the MAA programme, while others need to implement it soon. There are cultural barriers and myths associated with breastfeeding which need to be addressed too,” said Dr Arun Kumar Panda, Additional Secretary, MoHFW.

A BPNI research published in March 2016, done in Delhi on over 350 mothers residing in a resettlement colony revealed that feeding practices in the mothers were not satisfactory, the prevalence of initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth was 51.7 per cent and exclusive breastfeeding was just 42 per cent which is lower than the national figure. The practice of giving artificial feeds was common with majority of the mothers giving diluted feeds.

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