Breastfeeding is very important –
Patrick Aliganyira, Technical Specialist, Save the Children
Every year, between August 1 and 7, the world promotes one of the life-giving interventions for mothers, babies and children – breastfeeding. This year’s theme for the International Breastfeeding Week, Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – For Life! indeed points to the importance of this practice.
Breastfeeding is a naturally developed reflex for healthy babies immediately after birth, yet often many miss this opportunity. It is a standard recommendation that a baby should be initiated on breast milk immediately after birth. But according to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS), only 52 per cent of newborns in Uganda are breastfed within the first hour of life.
Early initiation of breastfeeding should be accompanied by exclusive breastfeeding of the infant for at least six months after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding the baby on breast milk alone. The 2011 UDHS further shows that the trend of exclusive breastfeeding drops dramatically from month to month after birth.
While 82 of 100 women exclusively breastfed their babies 0 – 1 month of life, this proportion dropped to 67 of 100 women for babies aged 2 – 3 months. This further dropped among women with babies aged 4 – 5 months old. Many mothers introduce other feeds too early, denying their babies the opportunity of the naturally occurring balanced diet – breast milk – when it is readily available and still adequate for the baby.
When practiced properly, breastfeeding can contribute to a country’s progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goal 4 of – reducing child mortality and MDG 5 of improving maternal health.
According to the United Nations, breastfeeding also has a role to play as far as MDG 1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is concerned. Exclusive and continued breastfeeding for two years can help prevent hunger and malnutrition.
Besides, breastfeeding is a cost-effective way of feeding babies and children because it is affordable for everyone. Coupled with good quality complementary foods (when baby is six months or older), it significantly reduces the risk of stunting thus enhances mental development and promotes learning.
We need to appreciate that breastfeeding is a ‘team’ effort. Mothers have goals for breastfeeding but they need the support of family and friends to achieve those goals. Therefore, everyone has a role to play in promoting the early and timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour after birth and exclusive breastfeeding up to six months for a healthy start to a child’s life.