Amidst concerns of rising breast cancer incidence in the country, improvements over the last decade in breastfeeding practises is a silver lining which, doctors hope, will help combat malignancy.

National Family Health Survey 2015 showed 37.1 per cent of the children born in Telangana are breastfed within one-hour of birth as against 22.4 per cent in 2005. This improvement was seen across the country in the last decade. An article published last week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), attributes the improvement to government initiatives.

Early initiation of breastfeeding is often associated with reduced risk of neonatal mortality, as breastfeeding within the first hour of birth helps prevent sepsis and several other fatal problems in newborns. It is also known that early breastfeeding greatly improves the scope for sustained breastfeeding, which in turn can help lower breast cancer risk.

“Early breastfeeding precludes or delays the need for bottle-feeding. Infants may not take the breast if they become dependent on bottle-feeding, which is easier than feeding from breast,” said gynaecologist and Superintendent of Gandhi Hospital J.V. Reddy.

Lower cancer risk

It is now widely accepted that sustained breastfeeding lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer, mainly due to hormonal changes that lactation following pregnancy brings about. Despite improvements in the state’s breastfeeding practise, those fighting breast cancer say a lot more needs to be done, given that exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months is essential to accrue significant anti-cancer benefits.

“Breast cancer has become a lifestyle disease due to delayed pregnancies, not breastfeeding and obesity. Breastfeeding helps lower risk and a lot needs to be done to make it easy on mothers to breastfeed in public,” said president Association of Breast Surgeons of India P. Raghu Ram.

In Telangana, only 67.3 per cent babies are exclusively breastfed for six months. Consequently, high rate of caesarean deliveries in the state at 58 per cent is associated with low rates of early initiation of breastfeeding, the BMJ article notes.