- It is an opportunity to advocate for a variety of actions and engagements with a wide range of stakeholders in the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding.
By Tuzie Edwin Ndekia
World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration held every year from 1 to 7 August in more than 120 countries, including Tanzania.
It is an opportunity to advocate for a variety of actions and engagements with a wide range of stakeholders in the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme, “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support,” reminds us of the importance of advocating for breastfeeding and ensuring that women receive the necessary information and support and healthcare before, during and after childbirth, as well as promoting various measures to ensure the safety of mothers and their infants to experience optimal breastfeeding.
Breast milk is best
Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure the survival, healthy growth and development of a child. Breast milk provides all of the nutrients that an infant requires during the first six months of life; it acts as a first vaccine for babies, protecting them from a variety of diseases and infections.
WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, be exclusively breastfed for the six months of life (meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water), followed by continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond.
Timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth can avert 22 percent of newborn mortality, and offer a powerful line of defense against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
Children who are not exclusively breastfed during the first years of life are more likely to contract common illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and asthma, which account for a significant number of deaths of children each year.
Babies who are not exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life have a 14 times higher risk of death, including a 10 times greater risk of death from diarrhoea and 15 times higher risk of death from pneumonia than exclusively breastfed infants.
Breastfeeding also offers health benefits to women because it helps with birth spacing, reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and hypertension, helps in post-natal maternal recovery and weight loss, and it is linked with less post-natal depression.
Breast milk is free of charge and widely available, even in resource-constrained settings.
Although almost all infants in Tanzania are breastfed, there is still a long way to go before all infants are exclusively breastfed, which is a critical component of optimum nutrition in the first 1,000 days (from conception to two years).
Only around 50 percent of newborns globally are breastfed within the first hour of birth. About 60 percent of infants in Tanzania are exclusively breastfed.
Many barriers to optimal breastfeeding exist, including the common belief that breastfeeding is insufficient to satisfy a growing infant; cultural practices, such as those that require infants to be given specific foods after delivery (to welcome them into the world); aggressive marketing of infant formula; a lack of adequate support to mothers to enable them to breastfeed successfully; and heavy workloads for mothers, including inadequate maternity leave provision.
It is important for mothers to feel supported and encouraged by their immediate environment, which includes their partners, families, health care workers, communities, their employers and the mass media, for the benefit of both mother and child.
*Nutrition Officer, UNICEF Tanzania