The importance of breastfeeding in SA

PHOTO: SUPPLIEDA mother breastfeeding her baby.
PHOTO: SUPPLIEDA mother breastfeeding her baby.

WORLD Breastfeeding Week was commemorated last week, from August 1 to August 7, with statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showing that South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

According to the organisation, only 32% of South African women breastfeed. They further claim that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and, if possible, breastfeeding should continue until the age of two years and beyond, while complementary foods are introduced.

“One of the key sustainable development goals of the United Nations is that by 2025 at least 50% of infants aged zero to six months in every country will be exclusively breastfed,” they said in a statement.

“However, South Africa still has one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates, and at just 32% currently, we have a long way to go.”

In talking to residents in the Highway area, it soon became clear that many were not aware that breastfeeding was a priority in a child’s life.

Christina Miller, a mother who has a three month old baby, said she wasn’t aware that mothers are supposed to breastfeed the baby until it turns two. “It’s my firstborn and I don’t have much knowledge about the things that I should do but I’m learning each and every day,” said Miller.

She suggested that clinics could have classes for new mothers where they provide them with the information on how to take care of the baby.

The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) said awareness should be created around the importance and benefits of breastfeeding.

In speaking on the issue, ADSA’s spokesperson and registered dietitian Mbali Mapholi pointed out how important it is that women in South African communities, where hunger, poverty and inequality are rife; where crises such as fires, floods and social unrest are frequent; realise that breastfeeding their babies can provide many vital benefits.

“Breastfeeding provides babies with the best source of highest quality nutrition possible, at the very small cost of just ensuring that the mother’s nutritional needs are met,” she said.

“Malnutrition is the third highest cause of infant death in South Africa, and breastfeeding can prevent malnutrition in all its forms. Breastfeeding also provides complete food security for infants, even in times of crisis,” added Mapholi.

She said that breastfeeding saves mothers a lot of time, saying: “Breastmilk is always available, and it requires no preparation and saves you money because you don’t have to buy the infant formula. There’s no need to buy bottles, teats and sterilising products and you won’t need to use electricity,” explained the dietitian.

Mapholi said that breastfeeding boosts the baby’s health and breastfed babies are likely to get sick less often.

“This means there are fewer clinic visits and fewer days off absent for the mother at work.” Breastfeeding could also contribute to a lower risk of death, diarrhoea, chest infections, ear infections, and a smaller chance of the baby being overweight.

Mapholi added that breastfeeding boosts mom’s health, saying: “There will be lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer and high blood pressure.”

Mapholi, who is currently breastfeeding her 14-week old twins, said there are so many incredible advantages to breastfeeding. “Moms need to feel confident that it is the natural, perfect food for their infants under six months and it continues to be a vital source of nutrition as a baby grows into a toddler and their immune systems continue to develop. Some moms may need to return to work but, because breastmilk is best for the baby, they should consider expressing and storing their milk so their children will continue to receive the benefits for longer,” she explained.

In conclusion, she said World Breastfeeding Week reminds us that breastfeeding is a universal solution that gives everyone a fair start in life and lays the foundation for good health and survival of children and women.

“Moms need to be fully supported by their families, friends and employers because breastfeeding is a major strategy to fight poverty and boost food security in our communities, and we hope to see a significant increase in breastfeeding across South African communities,” she concluded.

For more information on World Breastfeeding Week 2018 visit


• Allow 20 to 40 minutes of relaxed private time

• Gently massage and squeeze around the nipple area and your milk will start to flow

• Collect your breastmilk in a wide-rimmed container that has been sterilised with boiling water

• Transfer the breastmilk to sealable bottles, food containers or food bags that have been sterilised with boiling water. You can even get pre-sterilised, resealable food bags.

• Breastmilk can be safely stored in the fridge for one to two days or in the freezer for up to six months

• If you are expressing and storing a lot of breastmilk, date the storage containers so you can keep track of the milk that needs to be used first

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