South Africa: Breast-Feeding Week

press release

August 1 to 7, 2013 commemorates the World Breastfeeding Week.

This year's theme is "Breastfeeding Support, close to mothers" highlighting the importance of Peer Counselling and Community Support for the breastfeeding mother and her infant.

Breastfeeding is a time honoured strategy in child survival that medical sciences have proven beyond any doubt. Breast milk is ideal nourishment for infants. It contains all the nutrients and antibodies that infants need to grow and to ward off illnesses.

The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life (no other food or liquid - not even water - is needed during this period). Continued breastfeeding for two years or longer with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods is ideal.

South Africa has low exclusive breastfeeding rates and poor child feeding practices. While breastfeeding is common in South Africa, the majority of infants 0-6 months are not given breast milk exclusively.

This early introduction of other fluids and foods called mixed feeding is responsible for high rates of diarrhoea and contributes significantly to infant malnutrition and deaths.

Previous research (HSRC, 2008) revealed that 25.7% of children aged 0 to 6 months were reported to be exclusively breastfed (only 8% until the recommended 6 months) whilst 22.5% of children 0-6 months were exclusively formula fed. 51.3% of children 0-6 months were mixed fed.

Inappropriate feeding practices such a sub optimal or no breastfeeding as well as inadequate complementary feeding is a threat to child survival.

Evidence show that there are multiple influences at different levels in a mother's environment which can either support or hinder her ability to optimally feed her infant.

Reasons usually cited for early introduction of other feeds include, but not limited to, perceived milk insufficiency, breastfeeding difficulties and mother returning to work. These challenges can be addressed through support from family, community and health services.

It is against this background that the Department of Health together with development partners have planned to conduct community engagements with key target groups with the aim of identifying factors that have an influence on promoting and supporting breastfeeding as well as exploring ways to overcome them.

This is in line with the 2013 World Breastfeeding Week theme - Breastfeeding Support, close to mothers.

Even when mothers are able to get off to a good start, all too often in the weeks and certainly a few months after delivery, there is a sharp decline in exclusive breastfeeding rates, and breastfeeding practices. Continued support beyond the health care facility is essential to ensure sustained exclusive breastfeeding and this can be provided in a variety of ways.

Early and exclusive breastfeeding within at least an hour after delivery also has benefits for the mother.

Early suckling can increase uterine activity and may reduce the risk of bleeding after delivery which is one of the most common direct complications that can lead to death of the mother after delivery.

The objectives for the breastfeeding week 2013 are:

to highlight importance of exclusive breastfeeding in reducing child mortality

to emphasise the importance of supporting mothers to breastfeed during the early days post delivery within the health facility, households and in the community.

to increase public awareness on the benefits of early feeding as well as continued breastfeeding in child survival.

All the provinces will have various provincial activities planned to raise awareness to the public during the world breastfeeding week.

- Department of Health

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