Breast is best, mothers told

Malnutrition is to blame for more than one third of deaths in children under five, worldwide, but breastfeeding can change that, say health officials.

The Western Cape Department of Health wants mothers to breastfeed exclusively saying it gives adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood, which is essential to a child’s full development.

Thedepartment made this call in light of World Breastfeeding Week, from Tuesday August 1 to Monday August 7.

Bianca Carls, a departmentspokeswoman, said the World Health Organisation found that 37% of deaths in children under five were due to malnutrition.

“It was found that by exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life these deaths can be decreased by 13%,” she said.

Natasha Kassen, adieticianandnutritioncoordinatorfor thedepartment’s Northern/Tygerberg sub-structure,said breastfeeding’s benefits were undisputed: breastfed children had at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children.

Ms Kassen said breastfeeding also reduced deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea, two major child killers.

“Breastfeeding is the most natural and perfect food and contains all the vitamins, minerals and hydration required for healthy growth and neurological development of the infant.”

Ms Kassen said colostrum, the first milk a woman secretes after giving birth, provided immunoglobulins in the first few days of life that prevented many infections.

“The child is food secure if the mother is breastfeeding particularly between 0 and six months when exclusive breastfeeding is advocated,” said Ms Carls.

There are many breastfeeding benefits for both mother and child.

For the mother it:

* Helps contract the uterus and stops bleeding after delivery.

* Helps with losing weight that the mother gained during pregnancy.

* Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

* Reducespostpartum depression.

* Allows the mother to respond to the baby’s needs and feed the baby on demand for good growth and development.

For both the mother and baby:

* Bonding is promoted between mother and baby.

* Breast milk is readily available at the right temperature and in the right amount.

* It is convenient, with no equipment or preparation needed.

* Breastfeeding is cost effective.

Despite the benefits, several myths and misconceptions still surround breastfeeding, including the mistaken belief that the size of the breast determines the amount of milk produced and that mothers do not have enough milk to feed infants every three hours and need to take supplements to increase milk production.

Northern News met first-time mother Ncebakazi Bisani at Karl Bremer Hospital on Thursday August 3. She had given birth to her baby girl at 4.50am that day. And although she was finding it tricky to breastfeed, she said she was determined to do so as she understood it was important for her daughter’s development.

Ms Kassen said the ready availability of formula and the pressure on women to return to work soon after delivering had contributed to a decline in breastfeeding.

In coming months, the City of Cape Town’s health department and province’s Metro District Health Service will survey mothers’ views on exclusive breastfeeding, as part of a pilot project at clinics in two sub-districts. The project found that only 40% of mothers surveyed were exclusively breastfeeding and just over half knew what exactly it meant to breastfeed exclusively.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said in a statement that the availability of formula feeds had made breastfeeding less attractive to moms.