Breastfeeding most effective life-saver

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During World Breastfeeding Week, starting today, UNICEF is focusing on breastfeeding as the most effective and inexpensive way of saving children’s lives. But with the vast majority of children in South Africa not benefitting from exclusive breastfeeding, strong leadership in promoting the practice is essential. The National Department of Health has dedicated the entire month of August to the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding.

South Africa declared exclusive breastfeeding as the optimal feeding option for children from 0-6 months, irrespective of the mother’s HIV status, in August 2011. In addition, the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes was legislated in 2012 to protect parents and health professionals from aggressive or inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes.

“There is no other single health intervention that has such a high impact for babies and mothers as breastfeeding and which costs so little for governments,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. “Breastfeeding is a baby’s ‘first immunisation’ and the most effective and inexpensive life-saver ever.”

Advantages of breastfeeding

Children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children. Starting breastfeeding in the first day after birth can reduce the risk of newborn death by up to 45%. Breastfeeding also supports a child’s ability to learn and helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life.

Although breastfeeding is natural and may seem instinctive, it is essential to create an enabling environment for it to become the norm. UNICEF supported the national and provincial departments of to host community engagement workshops with the objective to better understand the barriers and enabling factors regarding breastfeeding.

“One of the most prominent barriers highlighted during these discussions was that societal norms make mothers feel awkward about breastfeeding in public,” said UNICEF South Africa Nutrition Specialist Chantell Witten. “Social norms encourage mothers to breastfeed out of sight. Barriers like this need to be addressed to create change. Enabling factors for breastfeeding include maternity leave, an informed support structure and being with your baby.”


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