Children / Healthy People/ Groups / Women

Exclusive breastfeeding: benefits, obstacles and solutions

Exclusive breastfeeding is the healthiest option for babies, yet the practice is avoided by many mothers. Post-grad Pharmacy student Shingirai Katsinde is promoting exclusive breastfeeding in rural communities as part of her post-grad project, working with two rural communities, Glenmore and Ndwayana, and one urban community, local Grahamstown.

There are multiple reasons why exclusive breastfeeding is a lot more beneficial for the health of your baby than the use of formula milk and other substitutes. These include the fact that:

  • Breast milk contains anti-infective properties. “When the mother falls sick, she forms antibodies that go to her milk which then get passed onto the baby when breastfeeding,” explained Katsinde. “With formula milk you don’t have that, so breast milk itself will prevent illness and disease, which formula milk wont do.”
  • Breast milk contains vital nutrients. “You have elements like iron and vitamin A, which may be in formula milk but they are not processed fast enough and some are not useable,” said Katsinde. “They are just excreted because the baby is too young and their gut is too underdeveloped.”
  • Breast milk is better for the correct transference of nutrients. “Breast milk has the right quantity of nutrients, as it can’t be under or over diluted like formula milk, which results in the nutrients not getting through,” she added.
  • Breastmilk substitutes are at risk of getting contaminated. According to Katsinde, the water used in formula milk or substitutes like porridge can cause health hazards. “You are talking about a community where they don’t have access to clean water all the time; they have one tap for every 10 to 15 houses, so you can imagine they have to store the water in containers and you don’t know if they are clean enough,” she explained.
  • Breastfeeding facilitates attachment. “Breastfeeding is necessary for bonding between mother and child,” said Katsinde.

So if breastfeeding is so much more beneficial, why is no one doing it?

Katsinde found that mothers are unable to breastfeed because of their work responsibilities. “The practice is very difficult because you are saying that for six months, you can’t feed your child anything but breast milk,” said Katsinde. “That pushes them not to breastfeed because after two months they are expected to go back to work or else they won’t get paid.”

A solution to this would be a breast pump, which allows mothers to express breast milk and store it in bottles for future use. “We are talking about a low income community and buying a breast pump is around R2500,” said Katsinde. “They can’t afford that so they have to express using their hands and that is very difficult, so they don’t do it.”

Another factor is that teenage mothers are reluctant to breastfeed. “They say that if they start breastfeeding they will smell of breast milk, their breasts will start to sag, and they won’t be able to go to school,” explained Katsinde. “You have situations where teenagers go to hospitals to give birth, arriving with bottles of milk and tins of formula milk, already prepared not to breastfeed.”


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