Mothers of suckling tots in for a treat

The City of Cape Town’s Health Department has embarked on an initiative to create breastfeeding corners at clinics for mothers.

As World Breastfeeding Week draws to a close, City’s clinics are currently reporting a rate of just less than 40% of babies who are being exclusively breastfed, indicating that there is still work to do to reach the World Health Organisation target of 50%.

This initiative is but one of the ways the department is trying to increase breastfeeding rates in babies. City Health is launching the breastfeeding initiative in all clinics and Community Day Centres and will host an inaugural event at the Langa clinic on Friday 17 August.

In addition, the department will also undertake further recruitment and training of infant feeding counsellors (IFC) at clinics. The IFCs will be tasked with assisting all mothers with their infant feeding practices.

A child’s health is most vulnerable during the First 1000 days of its life. This period, from conception until a child’s second birthday, offers a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures. The right nutrition during this 1000-day window can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to develop and learn. Breastfeeding is one of the key interventions for building the foundation of healthy development during this period.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life. Globally, the breastfeeding rate currently stands at 40%. The WHO has set a target to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50% by 2025.

In South Africa, the rate has improved from 8% in 2008 to 32% in 2016. Between April 2017 and March 2018, 38% of infants under six months of age who attended City of Cape Town clinics were exclusively breastfed according to the mother or caregiver.

“We’re making progress, but it’s a difficult journey. Not all mothers are able to breastfeed because of health reasons and we have to be mindful of that. For those who are, there are a number of factors that bedevil progress.

“This includes the social stigma associated with breastfeeding, particularly in public, but also the lack of support in some workplaces for mothers who need to express milk after their return from maternity leave. There are also a number of unfortunate myths that deter women from breastfeeding,” said Mayco member for safety, security; and social services, JP Smith.

He added that malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty affect millions worldwide and this stands in the way of sustainable development.

“Breastfeeding is a universal solution that levels the playing field, granting every child a fair start in life and lays the foundation for good health and the survival of women and children,” he said.

Breastfeeding also improves long-term health, decreases the risk of non-communicable diseases, including childhood asthma and obesity. It can reduce the chance of diabetes and heart disease later in life. The longer duration of breastfeeding protects maternal health as well, and helps reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.