Breast milk is best
Johannesburg - Child malnutrition would decrease by 25 percent if babies were fed only breast milk in the first six months, a United Nations Children's Fund nutrition specialist said on Wednesday.
Chantell Witten was speaking at the Save the Children's launch of a new report called A life free of hunger: Tackling Child Nutrition.
Witten said about 70% of babies were being fed solids at two months old and that South Africa had the lowest proportion of breast feeding mothers in the world.
Most women fed their babies formula instead because they were in a rush to return to work after giving birth. Women were also scared of breast feeding their babies if they were HIV positive or had Aids.
"But things have changed now, the government is rolling out [Antiretrovirals (ARVs)] and pregnant women who are HIV positive are entitled to get ARVs," said Witten.
She said mothers were also not breast feeding because baby formula companies were advertising their products freely without restrictions.
Last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the low number of women breast feeding was caused by the aggressive promotion of baby formula and the perception that breast feeding was a sign of poverty.
He said policies had to be put in place to ensure breast feeding.
Witten said the first two years of a child's life were the most important and that it was during this time when children should receive all the necessary nutrients.
While some nutrients could be fed to the child at a later stage, those children would not be as healthy as those who had been breastfed in their first six months, she said.