In South Africa, the devastating impact of malnutrition is evident, with stunting affecting over a quarter (27%) of children under the age of five.
To address this critical issue, experts are shedding light on the dangerous practice of prematurely replacing breast milk with non-nutritive alternatives, such as diluted milk formulas, creamers, condensed milk, flour and sugar water, or even tea, like Rooibos.
Amanda Kuit, a clinical dietitian, asserts that good nutrition is the cornerstone of a healthy future.
“Adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is essential for healthy growth and development.”
Sadly, inadequate feeding practices contribute to major health problems and high infant mortality rates.
Shockingly, global malnutrition is responsible for 60% of the 10.9 million deaths among children under five each year.
Unfortunately, more than two-thirds of these deaths, which are frequently connected to improper feeding habits, occur within the first year of life.
During this National Nutrition Week (9-15 October), one of the crucial messages is focused on when and how to safely introduce milk substitutes into a baby's diet, to reduce stunting and infant mortality rates in the country.
Kuit warns against the common practice of substituting milk feeds with Rooibos, which is ill-advised. While Rooibos has numerous health benefits, it cannot replace breast milk, formula milk, or other nutrient-rich foods, as it lacks nutritional value.
Water and Rooibos lack essential proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that are vital for a baby's growth.
Ideally, mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months without offering any other food or liquids, including water. In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, infant formula can be given as the sole source of nutrition until the age of six months.
After that, other liquids like water and Rooibos (without sugar, honey, or any sweeteners) can gradually be introduced alongside solid foods.
“Mothers and caregivers should keep in mind that infants are particularly vulnerable during the transition period when complementary feeding begins,” explained Kuit.
According to Unicef, good nutrition during the first 1,000 days provides the building blocks for healthy brain development.
Angela Leach, who is an expert dietitian at FUTURELIFE®, says that when you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you need more nutrients.
Leach added that good nutrition is really important during this time, which is why they developed a new range with extra fibre, protein, and important vitamins and minerals that both mother and baby need.
Leach also explained the importance of having proper nutrition for the healthy growth of your baby.
Getting enough nutrients like folic acid, iron, calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals helps with making organs, tissues, and bones and reduces the chances of birth defects.
The shake is a special drink made just for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It's a low-GI shake that has all the right nutrition you need.
It has special ingredients like Development 5™, Collagen, Choline, Calcium, and Omega-3 that are great for you and your baby. Development 5™ makes sure your baby gets all the important nutrients they need for folate, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 - things that are really important for their development.
According to Kuit, unsweetened and unflavoured Rooibos without milk can help with soothing digestive issues – not only in babies and toddlers but in people of all ages. It is also a great way to hydrate, especially for breastfeeding mothers.
She said: “Given the known high polyphenol content of Rooibos, the tisane may potentially exert a pre-biotic effect in the gut to improve chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal concerns.”
“Traditionally, among many other uses, Rooibos is consumed to aid digestive problems, such as stomach cramps and nervous tension. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Rooibos can alleviate colic, while it is not indicated for babies before the age of six months.”
Breastfeeding women can consume Rooibos to provide prebiotics for their infants while also modifying their diet to assist in curing colic.
Breastfed children with colic see considerable reductions in crying time when their mothers follow a hypo-allergenic diet that excludes dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, and fish while introducing Rooibos.
Kuit claimed that the polyphenol antioxidants in Rooibos are powerful enough to measurably increase the antioxidant levels in breast milk, thereby strengthening the infant's internal defence systems against colic or digestive issues.
“Mothers can drink 500 ml of green Rooibos, and the effect of the polyphenol antioxidants will peak about one hour after consumption.”
“Rooibos are available in red (fermented) and green (unfermented) varieties, with the green variety having somewhat higher antioxidant levels than the red kind.
“If served without sugar, honey, or other sweeteners, Rooibos is significantly healthier than soft beverages and fruit juice due to its low tannin content and lack of caffeine,’’ explained Kuit.
She added: “Both soft drinks and 100% fruit juice may contain as much as 20 to 26 grams of sugar per 250 ml.
“Research consistently shows a link between high sugar intake and a higher risk of being overweight and other illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and heart disease.”
Strong, unflavoured Rooibos (plain, without anything added to it) in baby’s bathwater can also help soothe dry and irritated skin conditions, such as eczema, nappy rash and cradle cap.
Kuit revealed that babies older than six months can be given Rooibos as a cold or hot beverage. As an alternative, it can be given to infants as an unsweetened ice cream treat to help relieve sore gums brought on by teething.
Rooibos also includes antioxidants that help prevent allergies, such as quercetin, making it act as a natural antihistamine.