According to the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (PDHS) 2012-13, there has been an increase of 0.6 per cent in the exclusive breastfeeding rate, while the rate of bottle-fed babies has risen by 8.9 per cent since 2006.
These statistics were shared by Dr Tabish Hazir head of paediatrics department at Children Hospital, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) while addressing the participants of an advocacy seminar on breastfeeding on Friday.
Despite being the only country in South Asia to have a National Breastfeeding Policy, Pakistan has the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate at 37.7 per cent and the highest bottle feeding rate at 41 per cent.
Dr Hazir, who is also principal investigator at SAIFRN ‘s ARI Research Cell, said there has been no improvement in the rate of decline since 1990. “In Pakistan 194,000 neonatal deaths were reported in 2010, the third highest number across the globe,” he said. Quoting the Lancet medical journal¸ he said, “Babies who are not exclusively breastfed in the first six months have are at 14 times higher risk of dying than exclusively breastfed infants.
“It’s the prime responsibility of the gynaecologist to talk to pregnant patients about the importance of exclusively breastfeeding the baby for the first six months,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Caesarean babies are bottle-fed even though mothers can breastfeed.”
He said that according to PDHS 2006-07, exclusive breastfeeding rates are lowest among educated women belonging to the upper socioeconomic strata and bottle-feeding rates are highest among working women, women from the upper social strata, urban residents and women undergoing medical treatment.
Dr Hazir suggested that the ordinance on breastfeeding and the marketing code should be strictly implemented, healthcare workers at all levels should be trained to offer counselling. Undergraduate curriculum should be revised with greater emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding, he stated. “There is a need to evolve behaviour change strategies to arrest the declining trend.”
Silvia Kaufmann from UNICEF said children who are EBF are less prone to psychological problems, their immune system is stronger and the risk of becoming overweight also greatly decreases.
Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar said, “There is a need to address the root causes behind the shocking statistics on EBF did not talk much about the effective implementation of the existing BF policy.
The event was organised by Pims, in collaboration with UNICEF and South Asian Infant Feeding Research Network (SAIFRN) at the Children Hospital Auditorium, Pims.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2013.