Breast­feed­ing is un­beat­able

Best nu­tri­tion for ba­bies that also boosts im­mune sys­tem and brain de­vel­op­ment, and cuts mor­tal­ity, Dr writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

BREAST­FEED­ING is one of the smartest in­vest­ments that a mother, a fam­ily, and a com­mu­nity can make. Ev­i­dence sug­gests that it nur­tures na­tional economies, ben­e­fits the long-term de­vel­op­ment of so­ci­eties and low­ers health care costs.

Breast­feed­ing is vi­tal to pro­vide ev­ery child with the health­i­est start to life. It is a baby’s first “vac­cine” and is the best source of nu­tri­tion. It bol­sters brain de­vel­op­ment and re­duces mor­tal­ity.

Glob­ally, it is pro­jected that breast­feed­ing can save up to 520000 chil­dren’s lives in the next 10 years.

Im­proved rates of ex­clu­sive breast­feed­ing in­crease chil­dren’s chances of sur­vival and their cog­ni­tive ca­pa­bil­ity, thus en­abling more to be eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive as adults.

This year’s theme for World Breast­feed­ing Week is “Sus­tain­ing Breast­feed­ing To­gether” be­cause all of us – gov­ern­ments, de­ci­sion-mak­ers, de­vel­op­ment part­ners, pro­fes­sional bod­ies, academia, me­dia, ad­vo­cates and other stake­hold­ers – must work to­gether to strengthen ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships and forge new ways to in­vest in and sup­port it for a more sus­tain­able fu­ture.

In a joint mes­sage for Breast­feed­ing Week, Unicef ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor An­thony Lake and World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion di­rec­tor-gen­eral Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus em­pha­sised the ben­e­fits of breast­feed­ing for im­prov­ing na­tional economies, by help­ing lower health care costs, in­crease ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment and ul­ti­mately boost pro­duc­tiv­ity.

It is one of the most ef­fec­tive in­vest­ments a coun­try can make.

Ev­ery dol­lar in­vested in sup­port­ing breast­feed­ing gen­er­ates an es­ti­mated US$35 in eco­nomic re­turns across lower and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries.

By con­trast, low breast­feed­ing rates trans­late into bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of lost pro­duc­tiv­ity and health-care costs to treat pre­ventable ill­nesses and chronic dis­eases.

The good news is that the re­cently com­pleted South African De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey (2016) found a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in ex­clu­sive breast­feed­ing rates, from 8% in 2003 to the cur­rent 32%.

This is a no­table achieve­ment for the coun­try and is a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards reach­ing the World Health As­sem­bly (WHA) tar­get of 50% by 2025.

As a coun­try, we need to con­tinue our ef­forts to en­sure that more ba­bies are ex­clu­sively breast­fed for the first six months of life, with no other food, other liq­uids or even wa­ter.

Op­ti­mal breast­feed­ing prac­tices also in­clude start­ing it within an hour after birth and con­tin­u­ing un­til two years of age and be­yond.

As part of the Global Breast­feed­ing Col­lec­tive, Unicef has called for in­creased fi­nanc­ing and bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies, pro­grammes and in­ter­ven­tions to pro­vide moth­ers the sup­port they need to breast­feed.

To achieve these goals, Unicef and the Global Breast­feed­ing Col­lec­tive rec­om­mend seven steps for the global com­mu­nity to con­sider:

1. In­crease fund­ing for breast­feed­ing by at least $570 mil­lion (R7.6 bil­lion) a year to raise the rate of moth­ers who breast­feed their ba­bies ex­clu­sively for six months to at least 50%.

2. Fully im­ple­ment the In­ter­na­tional Code of Mar­ket­ing of Breast milk Sub­sti­tutes and rel­e­vant World Health As­sem­bly res­o­lu­tions through strong legal mea­sures that are en­forced and in­de­pen­dently mon­i­tored.

3. En­act fam­ily leave and work­place breast­feed­ing poli­cies that build on the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ma­ter­nity pro­tec­tion guide­lines, which in­clude the in­for­mal em­ploy­ment sec­tor.

4. Im­ple­ment the Ten Steps to Suc­cess­ful Breast­feed­ing in ma­ter­nity fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing breast milk for sick and vul­ner­a­ble new­borns.

5. Im­prove ac­cess to skilled breast­feed­ing coun­selling as part of com­pre­hen­sive breast­feed­ing poli­cies and pro­grammes in health fa­cil­i­ties.

6. Strengthen links be­tween health fa­cil­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ties and en­cour­age com­mu­nity net­works that pro­tect, pro­mote, and sup­port breast­feed­ing.

7. Strengthen mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems that track progress to­wards achiev­ing both na­tional and global breast­feed­ing tar­gets.

In South Africa, progress on these seven rec­om­men­da­tions have been made. They were part of the 2011 Tsh­wane dec­la­ra­tion to pro­tect, pro­mote and sup­port breast­feed­ing. The South African gov­ern­ment adopted the reg­u­la­tions on food­stuffs for in­fants and young chil­dren in 2015; which means the mar­ket­ing of breast milk sub­sti­tutes has been highly reg­u­lated in South Africa.

Yet moth­ers may still be ex­posed to mar­ket­ing by breast milk sub­sti­tute man­u­fac­tur­ers’ di­rect or in­di­rect pro­mo­tion strate­gies. A mother should be al­lowed to ob­jec­tively de­cide how she would like to feed her child and have avail­able to her the ben­e­fits of hu­man breast milk while also fully un­der­stand­ing the risks as­so­ci­ated with giv­ing her child breast milk sub­sti­tutes.

Other ini­tia­tives adopted by South Africa in­clude the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mother-Baby Friendly Ini­tia­tive with 70% of pub­lic health fa­cil­i­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing. Hu­man milk banks have been es­tab­lished in some hospi­tals to pro­vide breast milk to high-risk in­fants.

Use of lo­cal youth peer-ed­u­ca­tors to sup­port teenage breast­feed­ing moth­ers is an­other ini­tia­tive that is show­ing promis­ing re­sults.

In Lim­popo, ini­tia­tives have in­cluded train­ing for com­mu­nity health work­ers and in­volv­ing men and grand­par­ents in breast­feed­ing pro­mo­tion, ac­knowl­edg­ing that women with sup­port are more likely to op­ti­mally feed her child.

There is no doubt that breast­feed­ing pro­vides the best start in life. Know your role in pro­tect­ing, pro­mot­ing and sup­port­ing breast­feed­ing, and sup­port a breast­feed­ing mother to ex­clu­sively breast­feed her baby for six months and be­yond.

This can save up to 520 000 chil­dren’s lives in the next 10 years

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