A nation of breastfeeding mothers can reduce the burden of their country’s health care costs and food security for the poor, said the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) this week. pic: pexels.com

A nation of breastfeeding mothers can reduce the burden of their country’s health care costs and food security for the poor, said the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) this week.

World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from the 1 to the 7 August, is emphasising breastfeeding as ‘the foundation of life’ and highlighting the advantages of improving breastfeeding for communities and countries.  

Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Chantell Witten, who is also a researcher at North West University says, “It is well-proven that breastfeeding reduces disease risk.  Breastfeeding substantially protects infants against death, diarrhoea, chest and ear infections. Breastfeeding also helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms. It protects against overweight, obesity, diabetes as well as the various health consequences of under-nutrition.  For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and of high blood pressure.”

Witten said infants who are not exclusively breastfed; who are given food earlier than age six months and who are not following a varied diet, are at higher risk of malnutrition and death.  

Globally, if higher rates of optimal breastfeeding were practiced, 823 000 annual deaths in children under the age of five years and 20 000 deaths from breast cancer could be averted.

University of the Western Cape lecturer, Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Catherine Pereira points out that breastfeeding provides complete food security for babies up to six months of age.

“Furthermore, from six to 24 months, breastmilk still provides a substantial contribution to a child’s nutrient and energy needs. Breast milk is accessible, sufficient, safe and nutritious and it is therefore quite clear that breastfeeding can contribute directly to ensuring food security during emergencies.”

ADSA said breastfeeding has the power to ensure food security for infants and children in times of crisis.  “This is highly relevant to disadvantaged communities in South Africa, which bear the brunt of disasters such as fires and floods, but are also increasingly thrown into crisis due to protest action.”

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