India Champions Exclusive Breastfeeding With the Help of Nuclear Techniques

(Left) A study participant mother drinks Deuterium Oxide dose through straw. (Right) Sample being collected from her baby to measure deuterium enrichment in the saliva. (Photo: S. Balapure)

Nutritional status of both mother and baby is one of the key factors that can affect a child's birth, health and lifelong development. In India, nuclear techniques are being used to assess the nutritional status and provide data on the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which contributes to the health of mothers and their babies.

With a focus on crafting better, more effective programmes to improve the nutritional status of mothers and children, over the last five years, India has been using stable isotope techniques, such as deuterium dilution, to investigate child growth and associated body composition changes, body composition of lactating women, and human milk intake in breastfed infants.

Such nuclear techniques help the government to gain a clearer understanding of the nutritional needs of mothers and children in order to develop targeted nutritional programmes that address women's health, and promote exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months.

"Being a paediatrician working in a government hospital, I daily come across many opportunities to counsel mothers about infant and young child feeding practices," said nutrition researcher Urmila Deshmukh from Government Medical College and Hospital, Akola, India. Typically, the mother herself is undernourished, often lacking micronutrients such as vitamins D, B-12, A and iron, and this is reflected in infants as anaemia and delayed psychomotor development, she explained.

With the data and information gained from using the deuterium dilution technique (see How Deuterium Dilution Works), researchers have discovered shortcomings in previous breastfeeding promotion efforts and are creating more effective programmes that address the needs of vulnerable populations. "The published data has given us the indication that the messages about infant and young child feeding practices need to be delivered to the mother and/or the caretakers of the infants at a regular interval, and not just at birth and at six months. This may help to maintain the exclusivity of breastfeeding in the first six months of life. The fear of not having enough milk is the most common reason we have come across for starting complementary food earlier than six months of life, and here, maternal counselling is of great importance," said Deshmukh.

"When we speak to less educated mothers in rural areas, we need to counsel more about starting appropriate complementary feeding after six months, and with mothers in urban areas, we need to stress upon exclusivity of breast milk till the age of six months," she said.

Last update: 10 March 2016