Thandeka Moyo , Health Reporter
ONLY 36 percent of nursing mothers from Gwanda district adhere to exclusive breastfeeding for their new born babies amid reports that Matabeleland South province has the country’s highest starvation rates affecting children under five.
Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF), a World Health Organisation recommended practice refers to the feeding of an infant on breast milk alone for the first six months of life without addition of other food or water.
Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type Two diabetes and heart disease and aids early childhood development.
The high number of women shunning the highly recommended practice was revealed in a study conducted by local doctors recently published in the International Breastfeeding Journal.
According to the study, exclusive breastfeeding rates were low despite the mothers’ high knowledge levels and positive attitudes towards the practice.
“The majority of mothers who participated in the study had knowledge about EBF and 84 percent expressed a positive attitude towards the practice. However, 36 percent practised exclusive breastfeeding and the most common complementary food or fluid given to the infants was plain water,” read the report.
The doctors concluded that leading factors to low rates of exclusive breast feeding include accommodation arrangements.
“Women who lived in fewer rooms (one or two) were less likely to practice exclusive breastfeeding when compared to those who had and used more than three rooms due to privacy issues.
Thus, breastfeeding in the presence of the in-laws or any other respected elders can be viewed as contemptuous behaviour hence mothers were not able to breastfeed in the presence of elders,” read the report.
The doctors also highlighted that unlike in many cases; HIV positive nursing mothers from the district were keen on exclusive breast feeding.
“A maternal HIV positive status was found to be significantly associated with the practice of EBF in Gwanda District. Mothers who knew their positive HIV status revealed urgency in preventing transmission of the virus to the baby hence EBF uptake was high among HIV positive mothers,” said the doctors.
The report suggested that there is a need for realigning breastfeeding policy directives as well as community attitudes and values towards the exclusive breastfeeding.
This year, WHO is working with Unicef and partners to promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life, when it matters most.
“For this year’s World Breast Feeding Week which runs from August 1 to 7, we are promoting paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks and paid paternity leave to encourage shared responsibility of caring for their children on an equal basis.
Mothers also need access to a parent-friendly workplace to protect and support their ability to continue breastfeeding upon return to work by having access to breastfeeding breaks; a safe, private, and hygienic space for expressing and storing breast milk and affordable childcare,” read a statement from WHO.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old while nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
“Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike and increasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels could save more than 800 000 lives every year, the majority being children under six months.” —@thamamoe