The issue: Breastfeeding
Our view: A child’s health starts from day one. It is important that mothers are provided with the information to see to it that their child has a good start in life.
As the Breastfeeding Week continues to be celebrated this week, statistics show that many mothers still grapple with learning how to help their child breastfeed, practicing exclusive breastfeeding until the child is at least six months, or expressing breast milk.
According to the latest Uganda Demographic Health Survey and the National Policy Guidelines on Infant and Young Child Feeding, 41 per cent of babies are initiated to breastfeed within the first hour of birth. Only 60 per cent of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed. The percentage of children exclusively breastfed decreases from 83 per cent (of infants age 0 to one month) to 69 per cent (of infants aged two to three months) and, further, to 43 per cent of infants aged four to five months.
Mothers need to be encouraged to breastfeed their children for various reasons. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children should be exclusively breastfed for six months because it is the optimal way of feeding infants. This is because breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life.
WHO also states that breast milk provides up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life. Exclusive breastfeeding also reduces infant mortality and helps for a quicker recovery during illness.
Sadly, not many women are able to maximise this God-given resource, for many reasons. Poor nutrition of many mothers during and after pregnancy means that they will not be able to provide enough milk for their children. Many are also ignorant of the benefits and assume the alternatives such as cow milk or formula are better.
Others are not aware of how they can ensure their child feeds on breast milk (such as expressing milk and storing it) when they are back to work or in case they have to travel. For others, the stigma they face when they try to breastfeed children in public discourages them from attempting.
What is needed to change the tide is to create awareness among women; the earlier they are sensitised, even before they get children, the better. The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with International Baby Food Action Network, carried out an assessment of the tools the government had put in place to create an enabling environment to support, promote and protect child-feeding.
The report shows that there has been an improvement since 2008. Such efforts should be supported, in addition to private hospitals providing much more support and advice to women, who have just given birth. A child’s health starts from day one. It is important that mothers are provided with the information to see to it that their child has a good start in life.