Breastfeeding? Here’s what you should know

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Whether to breastfeed or not is a personal choice for a mom. Breastfeeding is, however, in accordance with national and international optimal infant and young child feeding recommendations.

If you have decided to breastfeed your little one, here are a few things you should know, according to Catherine Pereira, Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson, registered dietitian and lecturer at the University of the Western Cape.

Pereira says that the nutritional requirements for breastfeeding mothers are a little bit higher than for non-breastfeeding women.

“Vitamin and mineral requirements are higher and energy requirements are approximately 500kCal per day more than for a non-breastfeeding woman. In South Africa, we encourage everyone to follow the South African food-based dietary guidelines, which were compiled by nutrition experts in conjunction with the Department of Health and international organisations."

South African food-based dietary guidelines

  • Enjoy a variety of foods.
  • Be active!
  • Make starchy foods part of most meals.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day.
  • Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly.
  • Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day.
  • Fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily.
  • Drink lots of clean, safe water.
  • Use fats sparingly. Choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats.
  • Use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly.
  • Use salt and food high in salt sparingly. 

Pereira says that breastfeeding women do not require a special or different diet; they just have higher nutrient requirements. “Many women want to lose extra weight that they may have gained during pregnancy after they have given birth and one of the many benefits of breastfeeding to the mother is that it can help her to lose some of that weight,” she says.

How long to breastfeed for

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which are the global health authorities that many countries and health professionals take guidance from, provide the following recommendations for optimal infant and young child feeding: 

  • “Early initiation of breastfeeding (this means starting to breastfeed within one hour of birth);
  • exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; and
  • introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at six months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.”

The South African National Department of Health endorses the above recommendations. 

What if breastfeeding is not an option?

Unfortunately not all women are able to breastfeed. However, Pereira says there are strict international basic minimum standards set by Codex Alimentarius that all infant formula has to comply with. There is a specific that contains guidelines on the minimum nutrient and safety requirements with regards to how infant formulas are manufactured, together with packaging and labelling requirements. Therefore, all infant formula is generally of quite a similar quality. Most mothers should be able to breastfeed (with adequate support).

“However, in the minority of cases where either a mother has passed away or the mother is unable to breastfeed due to illness or other reasons, usually a standard infant formula is sufficient. In the even more rare cases where an infant has a serious medical condition, then a dietitian and/or doctor would need to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the infant and provide specific, individualised advice to the mother or caregiver regarding which formula would be most suitable,” says Pereira.

Most mothers should be able to breastfeed (with adequate support from health facilities, communities and the workplace).

Image credit: iStock 

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