Zambia
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Need for breastfeeding

IT is sad to note how many women these days are shunning to breastfeed their children due to various reasons.
As the world celebrated World Breastfeeding Day last week, it was noted that more than half of parents and pregnant women were using formula milk hence compromising child nutrition.
For some people, the decision to breastfeed is an easy one and comes naturally.
But others face barriers which are sometimes related to mental and physical health, finances, practicality or lack of information.
These can make the choice to breastfeed more complicated.
Despite these complications, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
This is followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years and beyond.
WHO also recommends early and uninterrupted skin-to-skin mother and child contact, which significantly improves neonatal survival and reduce morbidity.
WHO says all mothers should be supported to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, within the first hour after delivery and should receive practical support to enable them to initiate and establish breastfeeding and manage common breastfeeding difficulties.
The organization notes that as COVID-19 continues to ravage many countries, the importance of breastfeeding babies cannot be over-emphasised in promoting nutrition and saving the lives of babies.
World Breastfeeding Week was been held under the theme, “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support.”
A recent WHO and UNICEF report, which surveyed 8,500 parents and pregnant women, and 300 health workers in cities across Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom (UK) and Vietnam established that exposure to formula milk marketing reaches 84 per cent of all women surveyed in the UK; 92 per cent of women surveyed in Vietnam and 97 per cent of women surveyed in China, increasing their likelihood of choosing formula feeding.
“False and misleading messages about formula feeding are a substantial barrier to breastfeeding, which we know is best for babies and mothers,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
The UNICEF director said, “We need robust policies, legislation and investments in breastfeeding to ensure that women are protected from unethical marketing practices — and have access to the information and support they need to raise their families.”
Across all countries included in the survey, women expressed a strong desire to breastfeed exclusively, ranging from 49 per cent of women in Morocco to 98 per cent in Bangladesh.
The report details how a sustained flow of misleading marketing messages is reinforcing myths about breastfeeding and breast milk, and undermining women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully.
These myths include the necessity of formula in the first days after birth, the inadequacy of breastmilk for infant nutrition, that specific infant formula ingredients are proven to improve child development or immunity, the perception that formula keeps infants fuller for longer, and that the quality of breast milk declines with time.
The WHO and UNICEF say breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offers a powerful line of defense against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.

•A WOMAN breastfeeding. Picture by BBC.


Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses.
It also reduces women’s future risk of diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.
Despite all these benefits, globally, only 44 per cent of babies less than six months old are exclusively breastfed.
Data says global breastfeeding rates have increased very little in the past two decades, while sales of formula milk have more than doubled at the same time.
The report also notes that large numbers of health workers in all countries had been approached by the baby feeding industry to influence their recommendations to new mothers through promotional gifts, free samples, funding for research, paid meetings, events and conferences.
This even includes commissions from sales, directly impacting parents’ feeding choices.
More than one third of women surveyed said a health worker had recommended a specific brand of formula to them.
While experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, and WHO all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of six months, the most important thing is that your baby is fed.
Even though breastfeeding is encouraged, using formula instead is an option, too.
Families should choose the feeding method that works best for them. Changing trends in breastfeeding
Today, more and more people breastfeed. However, in the past, formula feeding was far more popular.
Many new parents used formula.
Grandparents may not understand the benefits of breastfeeding and may even discourage the practice.
Grandparents or other older relatives who have little or no experience nursing a child cannot offer advice or guidance.
Some communities may also have a bias against breastfeeding or stigma attached to the practice.
Sometimes partners and friends may not have enough information about breastfeeding either. Partners may fear that breastfeeding will interfere with the couple’s relationship or they may just think using formula will be easier.
Family members play a vital role in breastfeeding success.
Without their support, many people may choose not to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding truths
Return to work or school
It can be overwhelming to handle a new baby, family responsibilities, a home and the additional stress of work or school.
If the stress of pumping or breastfeeding feels overwhelming or frustrating, a parent may decide not to breastfeed.
Additionally, regular pumping is not always feasible with every work or school schedule.
Influence of healthcare providers
Some healthcare professionals are not educated in breastfeeding techniques or how to handle breastfeeding issues.
If the parent’s or baby’s healthcare provider does not support or understand breastfeeding, any challenges that arise may not be adequately resolved.
Or the parent may not be encouraged to continue to nurse.
The truth is that getting breastfeeding established can be difficult, particularly without guidance on skills like latching, positioning and preventing nipple pain and engorgement.
Many first time parents do not have breastfeeding support once they leave the hospital. Sometimes, they do not get much help while in the hospital either.
They may not know where to turn to for help or who to go to with questions if they run into problems.
They also may not know how common it is to have some struggles or frustration as they learn to breastfeed.
They may assume they are not making enough milk, even if they are, which is called perceived insufficient milk supply.
If new parents are not given follow-up instructions and information on the resources available to them, they may be more likely to stop breastfeeding.
Financial barriers
Lactation specialists and pump rentals can be expensive.
If women will need to pump and do not know where to go for assistance or do not qualify for programmes such as WIC, then they may not be able to afford to get the help they need to continue to breastfeed.
However, it is worth noting that in the long run, breastfeeding tends to be much less expensive than using formula.
Aside from any pumping supplies, which not all women even need, breastfeeding is free.
Personal issues Awkwardness, body image issues, stigma, fear and lack of confidence can all contribute to negative feelings about breastfeeding, says Tamika Auguste, medical doctor, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in Washington, DC.
Concerns about exposing the breasts to nurse can also make people feel uncomfortable. “Modesty is personal,” says Dr Auguste.
But there are many ways to help breastfeeding feel more private, such as using cloth coverings or nursing only at home.
When thoughts of breastfeeding cause embarrassment, discomfort, or shame, it is more likely a parent will decide against breastfeeding.
Additionally, some people see breasts as sexual objects and may have a hard time getting past that.
Health concerns
Even though people with many types of health issues can breastfeed and are often encouraged to do so, it can still be difficult.
Certain health conditions can cause a low milk supply, or a parent might worry about medications that they take and how they may affect their baby.
This can be overwhelming and exhausting.
But research shows that obstacles to breastfeeding are often confused with contraindications.
Women who have had breast cancer may not be able to breastfeed after radiation therapy or a mastectomy.
Plus, there are some health-related issues, such as HIV infection, when breastfeeding is not recommended.
In some situations, barriers to breastfeeding can be overcome.
But it is also a personal choice that should be respected.
“We need to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding, but also emphasize that if you can’t breastfeed [for whatever reason], your baby will be just fine,” Dr Auguste says.
People who breastfeed should not pass judgment on people who decide not to breastfeed, and vice versa.
As parents, we all need to be understanding of each other’s choices and support each other no matter which method of feeding (or parenting) we choose.
Ultimately, we all want the same thing—to have happy, healthy children.
To address these challenges, WHO, UNICEF and partners are calling on governments, health workers and the baby food industry to end exploitative formula milk marketing and fully implement and abide by the code requirements.
This includes:
• Passing, monitoring and enforcing laws to prevent the promotion of formula milk, in line with the international code, including prohibiting nutrition and health claims made by the formula milk industry.
• Investing in policies and programmes to support breastfeeding, including adequate paid parental leave in line with international standards, and ensuring high quality breastfeeding support.
• Requesting industry to publicly commit to full compliance with the code and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions globally.
• Banning health workers from accepting sponsorship from companies that market foods for infants and young children for scholarships, awards, grants, meetings, or events.
However UNICEF and WHO continue to recommend breastfeeding.
That is why the two organisations are calling on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to:
Prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts.
Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.