World Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated over the first week of August every year, is encouraging individuals from all walks of life to become part of the warm chain that supports breastfeeding.
This is a reminder that we all have the power to choose to be allies when it comes to changing our world for the better.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises exclusive breastfeeding throughout the first six months of a baby's life as well as continued breastfeeding up to and past age two.
We need to do away with assuming that lending a helping hand is exclusively for certain individuals. Health practitioners are not the only ones who should support breastfeeding; the entire community should.
Few individuals are aware of the influence they can have on a mother's decision to exclusively breastfeed her newborn for the first six months of life.
Particularly for new mothers who are going through a vulnerable time, unsolicited advice, careless remarks, and judgmental attitudes from family, friends, and co-workers can have a negative impact.
Breastfeeding has nothing but benefits – it boosts and protects both mom and baby’s health in multiple ways, encourages vital bonding and offers the best possible start out in life for an infant.
Breastfeeding is also a vital source of food security for babies and families, communities and countries, which cannot be ignored in times of food supply disruptions and climate change impacts.
So, if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or even negative when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding, it may be time to think again.
Why do breastfeeding moms need support?
Babies have an instinct to reach for their mother's breast when they are born. However, not everyone finds nursing to be simple.
According to Maria van der Merwe, President of ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa), South Africa still has a long way to go in improving its low rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which was reported as less than 32 % in 2016.
She says: “Mothers in South Africa face a host of barriers to breastfeeding that range from societal attitudes and the interference of family and friends to the pervasive lack of access to healthcare support and workplaces that are either hostile or discouraging to breastfeeding mothers. This is why a multi-pronged, countrywide effort is required. We need to be more aware of the challenges moms may face and more supportive in connecting them to sustainable solutions.
“People who criticise mothers who breastfeed in public need to be aware that because feeding infants where and when they are hungry is so important, this is protected by law. In addition, companies are required to ensure that new mothers in their employ are able to take private breaks to express breast milk during their working hours.”
What can you do to support breastfeeding moms?
Be a cheerleader for your friends and relatives who are breastfeeding, even if you’re not a parent or a mom who breastfed.
Supportive partners take on the role of creating a home conducive to breastfeeding by freeing up the new mom from energy and time-sapping chores. Get involved in burping after feeding and bathing the baby, as well as taking on the grocery shopping and food preparation so that mom has stress-free time to focus on breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, one of the main causes for new mothers stopping nursing is the necessity to return to work. Working mothers typically only receive 3 to 4 months, if any, of maternity leave.
Making it simple for the mothers on your staff to express and preserve breast milk at work is one way you can support breastfeeding as a company owner or leader. During the first six months of the baby's life, it is required that breastfeeding employees have at least two 30-minute breaks to nurse or express breast milk. Additionally, you may guarantee that women on your staff have a welcoming, private room and access to a refrigerator to keep breast milk.
In order to improve our low breastfeeding rate, South Africa has to build a truly pro-breastfeeding culture.