Monday 12 April 2021
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Breastfeeding under the spotlight

Photo for illustration purposes only

Photo for illustration purposes only

Just over a decade ago, several infant food producing companies proposed that guidelines on breastfeeding should be reduced from six to four months, despite the World Health Organization(WHO) warning that changing the terms could increase infant mortality.
At the time, companies that wanted the breastfeeding period to be reduced were accused of trying to make more money at the expense of newborn babies.
Exclusive breastfeeding is normally recommended for the first six months of life, but mothers prefer to supplement breastmilk with infant food. A recent nation-wide survey had shown that just about 55% of the infants under the age of six months were being exclusively breastfed.
According to WHO nutritionist Rachael Mhango, there is a need for the implementation of the     International Code of Breast Milk Substitutes.
“Over the past few years there has been great violations on the code of ethics code: Women are not being protected from outside influences that disrupt breastfeeding. Parents are not being protected from misinformation and manipulation because they are made to believe that artificial feeding is “normal,” she said while addressing a participants at a workshop initiated by the WHO to curb the high infant mortality rates in African countries and encourage breastfeeding in Keetmanshoop.
Research suggest babies who don’t breastfeed are at increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and being obese, coupled with lower cognitive development and weak immunity.
Mhango, who revealed that the global baby food market is worth US$31 billion,
said she is particularly concerned because mothers do not know the risks that come with infant food during the first six months.
“Decisions are made to artificially feed infants without knowledge of the risks to infant’s and mother’s health and governments are not fulfilling their duties towards parents and children.’’ Most babies that are not breastfed, fat cells are difficult to get rid of and you find young kids that are diabetic because they were never breastfed,” Mhango said.
Research has shown that breast milk contains antibodies that help a baby to fight off viruses and bacteria. It lowers the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea.
WHO statistics indicate that undernutrition is one of the major contributing factor for child deaths.
The statistics provided also reveal that at least 92 million out of 136 million babies born each year, are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
“There should be an increase in the commitment of governments, civil society and international organizations to protect, promote and support optimal infant and young child feeding,” Mhano urged, adding that the prevalence of feeding other liquids at birth before starting breastfeeding increases the baby’s risk of dying by four years.
Speaking at the same gathering, Chief Health Programme Officer for the //Karas Region Mukuve Kaveto also emphasized that breast milk is the best food for the healthy growth and development of infants and the single most cost-effective child survival intervention.
“It promotes sensory and cognitive development, and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases.” he added.
According to a World Health Organisation report, exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness.
Breastfeeding also contributes to the health and well-being of mothers as it helps to space pregnancies, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
“Breastfeeding can reduce child mortality, improve child health and well being of the mother.” reads the report.
Longer durations of breastfeeding also contribute to the health and well-being of mothers; it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies–exclusive breastfeeding of babies under 6 months has a hormonal effect which often induces a lack of menstruation.
This is a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control known as the Lactation Amenorrhoea Method.
It also protects against gastrointestinal infections which is observed not only in developing but also industrialized countries.
The risk of mortality due to diarrhoea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.
Children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight/obese.
Additional information from WHO

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