Themed “Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life”, the annual campaign is meant to get everyone to appreciate the benefits of breast milk.
The SA Breast Milk Reserve has said only a third of South African children under 6 months old were exclusively breastfed.
According to studies, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways of reducing child deaths and promoting healthy development.
In addition, it has been found to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and depression in mothers.
“During this week, at community level we all have a role to play to help raise awareness about breastfeeding and at corporate level they can do more to encourage moms to breastfeed by making sure there are facilities available for them to express milk.
“These are some of the things they can do to emphasise the importance of this week,” said Nestlé’s medical and scientific affairs manager Anne Marie de Beer.
She said there were a few things breastfeeding did - breast milk was specifically tailored for the specific baby, and from a nutritional point of view it is the best thing a mother can give a baby.
“It helps with bonding between the mother and the baby.”
De Beer said one of the things new mothers did not understand was that breastfeeding worked on a supply and demand principle.
“The more frequently the mom breastfeeds the more milk she has. Some concerned moms complain that they do not have enough milk, but it is because they are only feeding their babies on demand. What they should do is make sure the baby has latched well to increase the supply of breast milk.
“The World Health Organisation recommends that moms breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. It is important for us to help moms to exclusively breastfeed and not introduce products into the baby’s life.”
She said mothers had a constitutional right to give nutrition.
Experts have compiled facts about breastfeeding, and these include that babies that are exclusively breastfed for the first six months have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhoea.
Breast milk contains antibodies that help prevent common childhood illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia. And women who are HIV-positive and on anti-retrovirals can safely breastfeed their babies without transmitting the virus, research has found.
The health benefits last well into adulthood, affecting both physical growth and brain development.
Dr Howard Manyonga, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and head of The Birthing Team, recommends in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines, that breastfeeding start within an hour after birth and that babies are given breast milk exclusively at first.
“Almost all women are able to breastfeed, provided they are given the right information and support. The over-use of bottles and dummies is discouraged,” Manyoga advised.
He said antenatal classes were important for ensuring that women have a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and that they are equipped to give their baby the best chance at development.