World Breastfeeding Week: Protecting breastfeeding is a shared responsibility

Mother breastfeeding her baby

World Breastfeeding Week runs from 1 to 7 August 2021.  In the midst of the global pandemic with a heightened awareness of the importance of health and robust immunity, it is vital to remember that breastmilk is the optimum food for babies.

According to Dr Chantell Witten, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), points out that moms can face significant roadblocks to breastfeeding their babies even when this delicate process went well for them after the birth of their baby.

“Given the many stressors on households, sometimes mothers find themselves in hostile home environments and social circles being negative towards breastfeeding. Often influential women in their lives second-guess them or encourage that they feed other foods before their baby is six months old.  The need to earn and return to work puts pressure on moms to give up on breastfeeding.  That’s why protecting breastfeeding needs to be a ‘whole of society’ effort to ensure that we have work and social environments that are breastfeeding-friendly,” Dr Witten said.

Breastfeeding from birth supports the healthy development of babies and plays an important role in the prevention of all forms of childhood malnutrition, including undernutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. Breastmilk contains antibodies which help protect against many childhood illnesses. The risk of breast and ovarian cancers can also be reduced in women who breastfeed.

Professor Lisanne du Plessis, a fellow ADSA spokesperson and registered dietitian and nutritionist, makes it easy to understand how we can be a protector of breastfeeding:

  • Partners can help mothers with the domestic workload as well as the caring of the baby. Getting hands-on with baby bathing, burping, talking, singing and playing is a great support. Doing grocery shopping, helping with food preparation and cleaning of the house creates a supportive environment. Raising children was never supposed to be a one-woman job and partners have a major impact on creating a home environment conducive to breastfeeding for optimum mom and baby health.
  • Family and friends should be cheerleaders for breastfeeding. It makes such a difference to encourage mothers on their journey to provide their babies with the best nutrition. Be aware of supporting breastfeeding moms anytime and anywhere. Even if you didn’t have a positive breastfeeding experience with your baby, make sure you fully encourage the new moms in your social circle.
  • Workplace support can make a real difference when it comes to maintaining breastfeeding after the end of maternity leave. In South Africa, we have few workplace policies that are designed to create an enabling environment to support breastfeeding mothers, and you can be part of ensuring this happens in your company. Breastfeeding moms who have returned to work are entitled to two 30-minute breaks to express breastmilk. A private room and refrigeration facilities for safely storing their breastmilk can provide further support.
  • SA society needs to be aware of attitudes that discourage breastfeeding, and even shame breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding is perfectly natural and should be normalised and championed across SA communities. Do your part to support, promote and protect breastfeeding as a national asset. It makes sense for us to ensure that our breastfeeding moms feel valued for the great choice they are making.

Compiled by Justine Fortuin