Mzansi mothers do not have the luxury of breastfeeding their babies up to the recommended six months. Often, they give up breastfeeding to return to work, says the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).
While marking World Breastfeeding Week, ADSA spokesperson and dietician Dr Chantell Witten says, “Given the many stressors on households, sometimes mothers find themselves in hostile home environments and social circles negative towards breastfeeding.”
World Breastfeeding Week, observed in more than 120 countries, this year focuses on “protecting breastfeeding” due to so-called outdated expectations of mothers who are working professionals.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes breastfeeding as one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival, bringing benefits that last throughout life.
The organisation says nearly two out of four infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months and the global rate for breastfeeding mothers continues to decline.
WHO believes exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many benefits for both infant and mother, including protection against gastrointestinal infections observed in both developing and developed countries.
From the way it adapts to feed different infants at different times to its immune-boosting qualities, breast milk may very well be the most super food of all, says Eastern Cape Dr Sikelela Siyabane during an interview with Health For Mzansi.
Breast milk is high in immune-boosting antibodies and has beneficial enzymes that aid in the prevention of diseases in children. For infants aged zero to six months, breastfeeding exclusively is advised.
“BREAST MILK IS PERFECTLY FORMULATED. A BABY WHO IS EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFED DOES NOT SUFFER FROM NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES,” SAYS SIYABANE.
Meanwhile, Chumisa Bhadula, a professional nurse, also shared her experiences as a mother and health practitioner with Health For Mzansi. As a nurse with the Macibe clinic in the Eastern Cape village of KwaCentane in the Amathole District she too recommends exclusive breastfeeding.
“Breast milk contains fatty acids that are important for the neurological development of a child, has all the necessary nutrients and antibodies, which confers immunity from the mother to the baby and aids with weight loss for mom,” she says.
According to Bhadula breastfeeding is also beneficial to mothers. “It reduces the risk of postnatal depression because it causes the release of what we call a happy hormone.
“When you breastfeed, a hormone called oxytocin is released. It causes your uterus to shrink down after birth, although this would’ve naturally occurred it just happens faster this way moreover this hormone can foster bonding.”
Siyabane furthermore believes both government and health professionals should be proactive in educating mothers about breastfeeding.
“I wish that many women would take up in arms and do it proudly, especially in public places, in order to normalise nursing and gain proper popularity because breastfeeding is a lovely, natural thing.
“We need programmes that not only need the mother to be present in medical facilities but for medical services to be brought to communities and schools for early education about the importance of breastfeeding,” he says.
Witten adds, “Often influential women in their lives second-guess them or encourage that they feed other foods before their baby is six months old. Protecting breastfeeding needs to be a ‘whole of society’ effort to ensure that we have work and social environments that are breastfeeding-friendly.”