23/04/2012 - According to a recent survey, only 37 percent of infants in Pakistan are exclusively breastfed until six months, which is recommended by the World Health Organization (WTO).
Heath experts in the country claim that this is mostly due to a low awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding in Pakistan, and that this lack of awareness poses a significant health risk to infants.
Some mothers believe that giving their children mostly formula rather than breast milk is the healthier alternative.
According to the director of the Nutrition division of the National Institute of Health in Islamabad, Baseer Achakzai, “The indicators we have show Pakistan has fallen behind its neighbours as far as good breastfeeding practices go, and this plays a major role in the high child and infant mortality rate in the country.”
The need for better awareness can be seen in Pakistan’s under-five mortality rate, which according to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report for 2011, stands at 87 per every 1,000 live births.
The cause of such a low rate of exclusive breastfeeding is overwhelmingly seen as a lack of education and misinformation. According to Anees Fatima, a paediatrician at a government hospital in Pakistan, “Even now there are so many mothers who are simply not aware of the need to exclusively breastfeed infants. This is something health workers in communities and paediatricians everywhere need to promote far more aggressively and actively.”
In an interview with IRIN, she stated that a major cause of diarrhoea among infants was improper sterilization or the making up of formula with unboiled water. She also pointed out recent studies had shown that breastfeeding “protected against a variety of infections”.
While Pakistan passed a specific law in 2002 to promote breastfeeding, this has had little impact on the ground. Many of the health experts surveyed in a report by IRIN stated that most women had never heard of the law.
There is also a problem of women having been persuaded that formula is a healthier option to breastfeeding, and that promoting breastfeeding exclusively till six months must be explained to be beneficial to their baby’s health if Pakistan hopes to catch up with other countries in the region in rates of breastfeeding.