The theme of the recently-concluded National Nutrition Week 2021 — ‘Feeding smart, right from start’ — highlighted the importance of nutrition from the very beginning. Hence, to promote health, support growth, and enhance development, it is imperative that infants are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, followed by complementary feeding while continuing to breastfeed till 2 years of age, experts recommend.
This becomes even more essential for premature babies or those born before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy and hence, are at high risk of developing complications. In 75 per cent of cases, infections such as diarrhea and pneumonia pose a threat to the lives of newborns, said Dr Vikram Reddy, chief scientific officer, Neolacta Lifesciences. Hence, ensuring access to human milk-based nutrition is of prime importance as helps in the optimal growth and development of the baby, he added.
What must be done?
Dr Geetika Gangwani, lactation consultant, emphasised that ensuring availability of 100 per cent breast milk diet is of paramount importance for the survival of the newborn as well as for the optimal development of the brain and other organs.
As per Dr Reddy, human milk provides antibodies and is easily digestible. “It contains all the nutrients that are essential for the overall growth of the baby and support the development of vital organs. It also provides natural immunity to fight infectious diseases and prevent other prematurity-related complications,” he explained.
Human milk is vital for ensuring optimal nutrition for all babies
If your baby is not able to feed on your breast, you can express your milk and feed it with a sterilised small spoon. If you are a working woman and you have to stay away from your baby for a long time, then you should store your milk at the proper temperature as prescribed by the doctor so that the baby can continue receiving breastmilk, even in your absence,” said Dr Reddy.
Pasteurised human milk
If you find it difficult to breastfeed or express sufficient milk for your baby, organisations such as WHO, UNICEF and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics recommend providing the baby, pasteurised human breast milk. Pasteurised human breast milk refers to excess breast milk donated by a healthy mother which undergoes pasteurisation to make it safe for consumption by an infant. Pasteurisation is a process that uses heat to kill any pathogenic microorganism that may be present in the milk without affecting its nutritive value, immune properties, or good bacteria. After pasteurisation, the milk undergoes stringent quality checks to ensure it is safe for a baby, mentioned Dr Reddy.
Avoid cow milk and bovine milk-based formula
Do not give cow/buffalo milk (bovine milk), advised Dr Reddy. Most infant formulas are also derived from cow’s milk and may cause overload on the baby’s fragile organs such as stomach, intestines, kidneys etc. and bovine milk-derived products smay lead to conditions like allergies, infections etc. Also, since bovine milk is difficult for the baby to digest, it may affect your baby’s overall gut health further increasing the risk of complications.
Do not give water or other liquid, even in summer
Babies do not need water or any other fluids. Mother’s milk fulfils all their needs which are necessary for survival and good growth and development. Avoid introducing any other foods to babies during the first six months.
Keep an eye
Since premature babies are not fully developed in the womb, the risk of developing complications is very high. Therefore, as soon as you notice any red flags, you must visit the doctor immediately.
“Since breastmilk is the ideal nutrition for babies, it is imperative that each one of us takes the onus to support mothers to continue breastfeeding. The need of the hour is to have a uniform breastfeeding policy and action plan. A joint effort of the government, employers, friends and family, as well as healthcare fraternity, will ensure that the mother gets the right information to make the right decisions for her baby’s nutritional needs,” expressed Dr Reddy.