Janam Ghutti: Traditional cure or modern menace?

In many parts of India including rural areas, people give jaggery or honey to newborn babies instead of mother’s milk as a tradition. Does this benefit the babies or harm them?


In many states of India, the tradition of giving newborns Janam Ghutti instead of mother’s milk can be harmful for their health. According to doctors, breastfeeding is important for a newborn immediately after birth. This is because the infant receives its mother’s first thick, sticky, yellow milk or colostrum. A woman’s body produces it for a few days after childbirth. This milk is extremely important for the baby’s immunity against various diseases. The antibodies in colostrum benefit the child throughout its life. However, thousands of babies do not get this life-saving milk due to old traditions in several parts of Rajasthan.  

Is Janam Ghutti a tradition or ignorance?

In Rajasthan, people give liquid or even solid food as Janam Ghutti for drinking and licking to infants as a tradition. In many families don’t give milk to the babies till the stars are visible in the sky. This adversely affects the health of the babies. At the same time, while giving them Janam Ghutti, hygiene is not taken care of, which further risks their health.

Doctors and health workers often ask villagers to breastfeed the babies instead of giving them anything else as Janam Ghutti as it can be harmful. Mother’s milk is the best Janam Ghutti the baby can have. Many private organisations also run campaigns to spread awareness about this. Yet, this unhealthy tradition continues unabated. As a result, the babies suffer from weak immunity even when they grow up. In many families, if a baby is born in the morning, they keep it hungry till they can see stars in the sky. This also can have long-term health impacts.

A report by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 said that in many low- and middle-income countries, only two out of every five newborns are breastfed in the first hour after birth. The kids who don’t get breast milk in the first hour post birth remain deprived of essential nutrition, which risks their health throughout their lives. In some cases, it lowers the survival chances too. The report said that 78 million newborns don’t get their mother’s milk immediately after birth.

According to the report, the risk of fatality is 33 percent more in cases of newborn babies that are breastfed between 2-23 hours after birth as compared to those that are breastfed within the first hour after birth. This risk increases further as the delay continues in breastfeeding.

Nothing like mother’s milk

Dr S R Giri, Paediatrician at Giri Children and Multispeciality Hospital, Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, said, “Mother’s milk is nothing but amrit for a baby. There should not be any delay in breastfeeding after the birth. Just like we do not wait for an auspicious moment for eating food, it is meaningless to wait for the stars to come out before a newborn is given its mother’s milk. It is the most important thing for a newborn, as it improves immunity against diseases and protects it. Making them lick other things such as honey could prove to be harmful for their health. The baby can also vomit or suffer from diarrhoea if hygiene is not maintained. Mother’s milk protects an infant from all forms of infection”.

Dr Giri also said that mother’s milk has several nutrients such as colostrum carbohydrate, antibodies and Vitamin ‘A’. This helps the baby have a sound growth, both physically and mentally. 

Dealing with challenges

Dr Inderdeep Singh Kochar, paediatrician from Jan Sewa Hospital in Sri Ganganagar said, “The tradition of giving Janam Ghutti to newborns in villages instead of mother’s milk is incorrect and harmful. The harm which is caused through this can never be overcome. A baby is dependent on milk after birth for sugar intake. If it is deprived of milk for long hours after birth, it can be at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Due to the resulting low oxygen levels, the baby’s brain can be affected. It can also weaken the cells related to the hearing and eyesight of the child. If you stop a child from breastfeeding within an hour of its birth, you are being a hurdle in its way towards a strong and healthy life”.

Need for public awareness

According to Dr Kochar, “To end the customs like giving Janam Ghutti after childbirth, it is important to run public awareness campaigns. People need to be told about the adverse impacts of denying the first milk of a mother to the baby. People have to stop hurting and risking the lives of infants due to Janam Ghutti“.

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