World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated globally from August 1 - August 7 and this year's theme focuses on how breastfeeding contributes to the survival, health and wellbeing of all. It also highlights how important it is to protect the right to breastfeed worldwide. Actor, producer and champion for nature Dia Mirza says, "We should not need a special occasion to acknowledge how important it is to disseminate awareness and correct information about breastfeeding. As a new mom, breastfeeding and related issues have become even more meaningful to me than ever before. I have become even more acutely aware of the lack of safe spaces for new mothers especially if they happen to be socially and economically marginalised. Why is it that we have never mainstreamed the conversation about how hard it is for underserved mothers to feed their babies on construction sites, farms and roadside stalls without any privacy?"
Dia feels it is ironic that on one hand motherhood is glorified and on the other, we grow uncomfortable and judgemental if a mother breastfeeds her baby in public. She says, "In countries like Belgium, breastfeeding in public is protected by law but in India, we need to bring about a systematic shift in societal attitude and ask why breastfeeding mothers are targeted by so much negative attention. Feeding a child should be considered as a natural and sacred act but when it is done in public, it triggers so much shame and judgement."
She points out that women in rural India face even more challenges. She says, "They have inadequate access to even basic information about reproductive and maternal health and the pandemic has worsened their financial, mental and physical health. Rural India has recorded a drop in babies being breastfed within an hour of birth even though the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all mothers be supported to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth. WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life as infants who are not breastfed are six to 10 times more likely to die in the first few months. Rural mothers however may not even have this critical piece of information. It should worry all of us that India continues to have one of the highest rates of malnutrition and infant mortality."
She believes that families and communities must be sensitized to support breastfeeding mothers in all possible ways. Underserved lactating moms must be provided correct information about proper feeding techniques and be given adequate nutrition, psychological support and access to safe spaces.
Concludes Dia, "It is time to normalise breastfeeding because there is nothing more important than a mother’s right to nourish her baby. "