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.
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.
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
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.
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
“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.”