Breastfeeding is one of the most crucial strategies to boost mother and child health. While South Africa has made some gains over the years, we still have one of the world’s lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Instead of being revered as the ‘superfood’ that it is for babies, a mother’s breastmilk is still often doubted as enough nutrition for her growing infant. Often, close family members and friends are the ones who undermine exclusive breastfeeding by suggesting to the vulnerable mother that her breastmilk is ‘not enough’ and wrongly pressure her to introduce solid foods.
Another major barrier to exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and ongoing breastfeeding for two years, is society’s attitude towards this most natural nurturing of babies, especially in public. Breastfeeding in public is protected by law; yet so often women are shamed and humiliated if they dare feed their babies, when and where they are hungry.
With its 2019 theme for World Breastfeeding Week, from 1 to 7 August, ‘Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding’ the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is resolutely focusing on how we shift public and private attitudes to be appropriately supportive of the optimal nutrition for babies. This is a theme that cuts across all sectors of society and applies to breastfeeding moms across the board.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week 2019, we asked ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokesperson and lecturer in the Division of Human Nutrition at Stellenbosch University, Thembekile Dhlamini, who also happens to have breastfed her child, to answer two burning questions about how we can empower parents to best enable breastfeeding.
#BurningquestionbreastfeedingNo1 – Empowering Parents – What do you wish you had known before you started breastfeeding?
- Due to my work, I was involved in breastfeeding training and advice for many years before I gave birth to my first son. Little did I know that the theoretical experience doesn’t equate to the actual experience. I wish I had known that.
- I wish I had known more about Lactorrhea, the continued discharge of milk between nursing, as one of the challenges that I could face. As dietitians our experience is often about dealing with the perceptions of ‘Not Enough Milk’, so as a mother, I was caught off guard by ‘too much milk’. Lactorrhea means you need to know about breast shells versus breast pads, because you need different solutions, especially when you are going back to work.
- I also wish I had known that hand expression of breastmilk is a hassle. I quickly understood why mothers struggle to do it at the beginning.
- I wish someone had told me that I would not want to go back to work at the end of my maternity leave because I wanted to breastfeed all the time. I thought I would be ready when time came, but the pain of separation cannot be forgotten. My little one is now 20-months old and I still struggle with separation.
- I wish I had known that breastfeeding goes deeper than most human bonds. It’s true love at its best. Breastfeeding moments are like meditation; nothing exists except you and the little one.
#BurningquestionbreastfeedingNo2 – Enabling Breastfeeding – How do you think family, friends, businesses, shops, corporates, public spaces can enable mothers to breastfeed?
- Family: I want my family to support exclusive breastfeeding without their interference. My baby does not need gripe water, Phipps, etc. They should allow me to experience breastfeeding the best way I know how and understand that my baby does not cry because he’s hungry. Families should understand that breastmilk is food like any other; it does not make anyone sick. I would like my family members to be there to feed my baby when I’m separated from him.
- Friends: I need my friends to respect my space and choice to breastfeed. They should not bring dummies, bottles and formulas to my baby shower. My friends should respect that my baby’s container is my breast. Also, they should not come along with teething biscuits, or anything else that contributes to mixed feeding.
- Workplaces: Businesses and big corporates need to adhere to the laws that ensure time and space for breastfeeding moms. They should take pride in promoting and enabling breastfeeding. Facilities for breastfeeding moms to feed or express should be enabling, safe and comfortable.
- Shops: We need to get breastfeeding out of the shopping centre toilets and parking lots. Why should bottle-feeding babies be allowed anywhere, anytime but breastfeeding is an issue? Shops and restaurants can really be a part of the solution by putting up signs that communicate their support that breastfeeding is the best and is welcomed in their establishments.
- Public spaces: There should be an emphasis on safe public spaces where mothers and babies will be comfortable and free from harm, such as tobacco. Mothers should not be expected to hide the natural beauty of breastfeeding. Our South African public needs to learn to appreciate breastfeeding.
Essentially, while breastfeeding is a deeply intimate time-bound bond shared between mom and baby, it remains a team-supported effort. As the WABA states: “Breastfeeding is in the mother’s domain and when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities support her, breastfeeding improves.”
We can all play our part in enabling breastfeeding for the greater good by protecting, promoting and supporting it.
For information on World Breastfeeding Week 2019 visit www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org