In the 1970s and 1980s, India was witnessing a decline in breastfeeding of infants. Increasing urbanisation and industrialisation, along with a global campaign by large commercial enterprises to encourage switch over to bottle-feeding as a more convenient and healthy option, were at the root of this change. However, research has shown otherwise. Hence, countering the large marketing and advertising budgets of commercial entities promoting bottle-feeding became a stupendous task. This was the rationale for Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI).
BPNI was born as a recommendation of the workshop on “Recent Advances in Human Lactation and Breastfeeding Management at Wardha, India” organised by ACASH (Association for Consumers Action on Safety and Health), FOGSI (Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India) and IAP ([Indian Academy of Pediatrics), in 1991. Over the past 25 years, the impact of this organisation, and its relentless advocacy, is beginning to yield results. There is now widespread awareness in India about the fact that breastfeeding is a healthier and better choice for all babies.
An achievement for BPNI was the enactment of the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992 and Amendment Act 2003 (IMS Act). Arjun Singh, late human resources development minister, had said in this context: “Inappropriate feeding practices lead to infant malnutrition, morbidity and mortality in our children. Promotion of infant milk substitutes and related products like feeding bottles and teats do constitute a health hazard. Promotion of infant milk substitutes and related products has been more extensive and pervasive than the dissemination of information concerning the advantages of mother’s milk and breastfeeding and contributes to decline in breastfeeding.”
Several non-government organisations (NGOs) and doctors had been conducting training and awareness sessions, since 1981, to ensure that breastfeeding remains the first and best choice. In 1991, a training of trainers (ToT) programme was organised. It was during this TOT that BPNI was born. Many participants became BPNI’s founders and co-founders. Dr Arun Gupta, central coordinator of BPNI, recalls, “Out of the group, four members were active and enthusiastic supporters of the cause. These were: Dr RK Anand, Dr NB Kumta, Dr Tarsem Jindal and I. We pooled Rs1,000 each to start BPNI which was legally registered in July 1992.”
Protecting breastfeeding from commercial actors is BPNI’s forte. It has no hesitation in taking on powerful multinationals that are at the forefront of high-powered campaigns to hard-sell instant formulas and powder milk to new mothers.
Challenging their might is not for the fainthearted. BPNI is continuously monitoring what these baby food companies are doing and reports to media and government. It shares these with other professional agencies to let them know what they are doing. “Very recently, we have come up with a phone app that can be used by people to detect these promotional tactics of companies and report to BPNI. It is named ‘Stanpan Suraksha’ on Google Play and IOS,” a proud Dr Gupta pointed out.
When asked about the challenges faced by BPNI, Dr Gupta said, “Lack of funds and sustainability are the biggest challenges. Also, BPNI does not have an office of its own and monthly rental is quite a major cost to it. BPNI has been relying on donors and the government; it does not take money from commercial sources. This is our ethical policy. We have not gone to individuals. If someone out there could donate a space of 2,000sq ft in Delhi, it could be a huge help for us, and if individuals help us with recurrent donations to fight for this social cause, it would probably sustain BPNI.” BPNI has been dependent mainly on international funding agencies and United Nations organisations. Its conventional donors are governments of Sweden and Norway.
BPNI is registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act and also under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. Donations to BPNI are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act, 1961.
Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI)
Tel: +91-11-42683059, 27343608,