Breastfeeding is a universal solution that gives everyone a fair start in life, says the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA). pic: ADSA

On the individual level, breastfeeding significantly boosts the health of children and mothers, while saving family income. But the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) said when this is amplified at the country level, breastfeeding contributes to breaking the cycle of poverty, reduces the burden of health costs (by preventing all forms of malnutrition) and ensures food security for babies and young children in times of crisis.

“It is a universal solution that gives everyone a fair start in life and lays the foundation for good health and survival of children and women,” said the Association.

2018 World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from the 1 to 7 August, is emphasising breastfeeding as ‘the foundation of life’ and highlighting the advantages of improving breastfeeding for communities and countries.  

The campaign, co-ordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), identifies breastfeeding as an essential strategy to combat the impacts of inequality, crises and poverty.

ADSA spokesperson - Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, lecturer and researcher at Stellenbosch University - Associate Professor Lisanne du Plessis, said these are all major issues across South Africa. “Yet, we remain one of the countries with the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world,” she said.

In an attempt to turn this around, South African organisations, which promote and support breastfeeding, such as ADSA are driving conversations around the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week themes.  

Du Plessis said optimal infant nutrition is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding until the age of two years and beyond, whilst complementary foods are introduced.

She said one of the key Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations is that by 2025 at least 50% of infants aged 0-6 months in every country will be exclusively breastfed.  “At just 32% currently, South Africa has a long way to go in the next seven years if we are to reach this goal,” she said.

Du Plessis said breastmilk and breastfeeding are referred to as ‘the economic choice’ because mothers produce custom-made breastmilk for their children at no additional expense to their households.  

She said the high costs of not breastfeeding include the impacts on nutrition, health care and the environment.  “It is essential that the barriers to mothers providing their children with the most natural, nutritious and health-boosting free option need to be overcome… On average, 20 kilogrammes of formula is needed to feed a baby for the first six months of life. At an average price of R190 per kilogramme, the formula bill adds up to almost R4000. Add to this, the cost of bottles and teats as well as fuel to boil water and clean utensils, and families face a staggering expense of thousands of rands to feed their babies.”

ADSA said there are also substantial environmental costs associated with not breastfeeding. “According to the widely cited Lancet Breastfeeding series, breastmilk is ‘a natural, renewable food that is environmentally safe’. It is produced and delivered to the consumer without fuel inputs, pollution, packaging or waste. It is clear that from the household to the country level, breastfeeding can significantly reduce costs and contribute to breaking the poverty cycle,” said du Plessis.