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Reaping rewards of exclusive breastfeeding

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Cynthia Mabveka- Saiti of Group Village Kaumphawi in Traditional Authority Msamala in Balaka is a proud mother of two-month-old Watipatsa who was born at Balaka District Hospital.

She is a proud mother because she has attained motherhood for the first time. The growth of her child too is another source of pride and happiness.

At only two months, Watipatsa’s development has surpassed that of many children born the same time with her.

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“She weighs 4.7 kilogrammes (kg) from 2.7kg at birth. This is after six weeks of postnatal visits,” says Saiti proudly. “Besides that, she has never fallen ill since her birth, she is just a happy and bubbly child.”

Saiti attributes the outstanding health and development of her child to exclusive breastfeeding promoted by Balaka District Hospital.

The facility is at the centre of encouraging mothers to breastfeed infants during the first six months of their birth.

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One of the activities is orientation of expectant mothers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

“We had orientation during prenatal on breastfeeding. By the time I was giving birth, I was fully aware of the advantages. Since then, my baby is only feeding on breast milk,” says Saiti.

In the run-up to this year’s global breastfeeding week activities, an assessment by the Ministry of Health and Population singled out Balaka District Hospital as a health facility with vibrant baby-friendly health services related to the week.

The World Breastfeeding Week was set aside by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (Waba) to promote and support breastfeeding as a natural and best way of feeding infants and young children.

In Balaka, this global initiative – with guidance from the district’s health office (DHO) – seems to gain more ground.

Balaka DHO District Nutritionist Jason Chigamba says they are implementing a number of interventions to promote breastfeeding among lactating mothers.

“The facility has trained our staff in promoting breastfeeding. It also provides health and nutrition education to mothers who have just delivered at our hospital and surrounding health facilities,” Chigamba says.

There is always a health threat when mothers deny their infants breast milk and Chigamba believes it is imperative to create awareness on the dangers of not breastfeeding infants during the formative days of their lives.

“Breast milk is a natural food and a source of anti-bodies. If a baby is not fully breastfed, the immune system can be compromised.

“But some mothers do not breastfeed their infants and resort to infant formula milk, which often leads to diarrhoea. This also increases the risk of acute respiratory infections,” he says.

International aid agencies under the donor group on nutrition security (DoNuts) are participating actively in promoting nutrition services in Malawi.

Chairperson for the donor group is German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) Country Director Dr Dagmar Lumm who commends Malawi for its commitment to the promotion of breastfeeding.

“Malawi has prioritised breastfeeding as an important public health intervention and future investment.

“Contrary to what many people think, breastfeeding is not old-fashioned. It is a clever solution that is cheap, nutritious to infants and improves the health of a child,” says Lumm.

She lauds the initiatives Malawi has made in supporting breastfeeding like adjusting the holiday entitlement for lactating mothers from one month to three and in other cases seven months.

However, Lumm says although there are enormous gains in exclusive breastfeeding in the country, barriers still exist in some quarters as evidenced by the declining rate of exclusive breastfeeding.

According to the 2016 Malawi Demographic Health Survey, the rate of breastfeeding among children less than six months old declined from 72 percent in 2010 to 61 percent in 2015, representing an 11 percent decrease.

This decrease, according to Lumm, is a serious developmental challenge.

“The negative effects of non-breastfeeding not only affect the health of individuals but also impact on households, communities as well as the development and economic growth of nations,” she says.

DoNuts has pledged support in helping the Malawi government achieve its objectives in creating awareness among policy makers and communities on breastfeeding and in formulating policy and legal frameworks on the promotion of breastfeeding.

With this support, government is expected to continue pushing for interventions that promote exclusive breastfeeding, according to Health and Population Minister Atupele Muluzi.

He says, in Malawi, most mothers stop exclusive breastfeeding within a short period after delivery by giving children artificial milk. The minister attributes this practice mostly to the environment surrounding these mothers.

“Situations such as a working mother reporting back to work after delivery, facing difficult circumstances such as emergencies and inadequate support from health facilities all determine whether such a mother will continue or completely stop breastfeeding,” Muluzi says.

He says the determination on whether a mother continues breastfeeding lies on the support she receives from health professionals, the community, family and workplace policies or legislation related to promotion and support of breastfeeding.

“I call upon all Malawian professionals to create time, space and support for lactating mothers to exclusively breastfeed in the first six months of a baby’s life,” he says.

Almost 800,000 deaths that happen each year globally could be prevented through adequate universal breastfeeding and a lot more through good complementary foods, good nutrition and care.

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