Breastfeeding, a key to sustainable development

WORLD Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated annually from August 1-7.

This year’s theme is based on how breastfeeding can contribute to achieving sustainable development goals (SDG).

These goals are a set of international goals, based on the Millennium Development Goals, set to be achieved by 2030. The SDG provide all nations with a new vision for development, with the primary objective of overcoming the root cause of poverty.

According to the Lancet Series (2008), a public global scientifically based journal, “Undernutrition can be deemed the cause of death in a synergistic association with infectious diseases; if under-nutrition did not exist, the deaths would not have occurred.”

The journal further provides evidence on the benefits of early initiation as well as exclusive breastfeeding (only breastmilk; no food/formula/liquid) for six months as the preferred infant feeding option.

Some of the many benefits of breastfeeding include:

  • Providing the infant with all necessary nutrients in the first six months
  • Protecting the infant’s gut (reducing the chance of diarrhoea)
  • Reducing the risk of childhood diabetes and ear infection
  • Reducing the mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer
  • Save families about R360 to R500 or more per month on purchasing breast milk substitutes
  • Save more than 4 000 litres of water per kilogram of breast milk substitute powder produced
  • Reduce greenhouse gases needed to produce breast milk substitute

Where does South Africa stand?

After much concern of high child mortality and morbidity rates in South Africa, authorities of South Africa signed the Tshwane Declaration. South Africa has thus dedicated itself to actively promote, protect and support exclusive breastfeeding (only breastmilk, no formula/other liquids/food) in the first six months as well as continued breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding was noted as a health intervention to optimise child survival irrespective of the mother’s HIV status.

Nationally, all public hospitals and health facilities were required to be accredited as Mother Baby Friendly (MBFI) and all private hospitals to be partnered as MBFI by 2015. Port Alfred Hospital has been MBFI accredited.

In order to be MBFI accredited, the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding need to be well implemented. Mothers are not forced to breastfeed at these hospitals and facilities, but they are supported and provided with all the necessary information to make an informed decision.

Legislation has also been included in Basic Conditions of Employment Act to enable mothers to practice appropriate feeding practices. Mothers are legally allowed four months maternity leave as well as two 30 minute breaks for breastfeeding or expressing per day until the infant is 12 months, as prearranged with relevant employers.

World Breastfeeding Week is all about increasing awareness of breastfeeding as a means to encourage and continue to enable mothers to practice appropriate infant feeding practices. Therefore, much support is needed from all individuals within various communities to promote a positive attitude towards breastfeeding.

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