While exclusive breastfeeding is encouraged, some women in Mpumalanga living with HIV claim nurses force them to breastfeed their newborn babies. Many of the women are reluctant to breastfeed because they fear they may pass the virus to their babies.
The Mpumalanga Department of Health says exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life should be encouraged because breastmilk has enormous benefits. This is in line with international recommendations by the World Health Organisation.
There is unequivocal evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding afterwards reduces serious illness and mortality, and improves the development of babies.
Breastmilk meets all an infant’s nutritional requirements for the first six months and contains all nutrients in the correct amounts and is easily digested. In addition to protecting against illnesses, it enhances the child’s immune system, reduces allergies and provides long-term protection against diabetes and cancer in adult life.
According to Dumisani Malamule, the spokesperson for the Mpumalanga Department of Health, during antenatal care and while attending maternity services, women should be provided with detailed information on infant feeding, including the risks associated with not breastfeeding. “Equally, the risk of HIV transmission and the importance of antiretroviral treatment adherence should be discussed individually,” he said.