Mother's milk is like nectar for the infant as it is the first vaccine that can be given to the child. It is the perfect food for newborns and infants. The initial post natal phase, breast milk is in the form of yellow viscous milk or colostrums which is packed with antibodies (immune globulins), and give the child an integral immunity against various diseases, including acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea.
Breast milk is also rich in proteins, has enzymatic activity that prevents the growth of bacteria and viruses, and fulfils all the nutritional requirements of the new born for the first six months. It is safe, easy to digest to ensure a child's health and survival.
An estimated 1.5 million human life would be saved every year with exclusive breast feeding from first hour of birth up to a minimum of six months, without any other supplement like water, honey, gripe water or any top feed.
Everyone who converses with a new mother-- the nurse, attendant and her family members--has a distinct role to play in educating new moms about the mechanism and benefits of breastfeeding and help her start and continue with it from the early hours of birth.
Despite the medical fraternity vouching for the efficacy of mother's milk, less than 40% of infants below six months of age are exclusively breastfed worldwide.
Bottle feeding is taken as a sign of modernity in urban households, adding fuel to fire are the glamorous advertisements of infant formula milk and baby food, showing suggestive models of chubby, smiling babies, to entrap the modern urbanite mother and tempt her to formula-feed her child instead of her own milk.
Moreover maternal and infant bonding, which is crucial to the emotional development of the child, cannot be provided by these foods. Bottle feeds and formula milk can never be a replacement for breast milk.
A reason commonly cited by new mothers for not breast feeding is that they are not able to produce enough milk in the first few days but whatever colostrums the mother produces during the first few days, are enough nutrition for the baby.
Milk production is a cyclic process—put the baby to breast, there is a cyclic release of hormones, and the mother's milk production increases. The more is the baby put to breast, the more would be the milk production. Only in extremely rare cases where sufficient breast milk is not produced, or if the mother is suffering from some serious ailment, does the doctor allow top feed.
Sometimes misplaced notions about spoiling their figure prevent young mothers from breast feeding. The truth is that suckling of milk does not deform the shape of the breast. Rather, breast feeding brings the mother back to her normal physical shape much faster, than if she does not breast feed the child.
It would make good sense to include nutrition education, with special emphasis on infant feeding practices, as part of the school/college curriculum so that adolescents understand the medical benefits of mother's milk and dispel the myths associated with breastfeeding.