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Huff Po: ‘Enabling Mothers to Breastfeed: Key to Reducing Undernutrition’

August 7, 2013

“When I first travelled to Tanzania as a research student two years ago, I assumed that breastfeeding was the common practice among new mothers. This was only my second trip to Africa and I didn’t have to travel far to find posters promoting breastfeeding. Within the first hour of arriving in Himo I had already seen two mothers breastfeeding their newborn babies. So I was shocked to find out that less than 50% of children in Tanzania are breastfed exclusively for the first six months. Globally, the figures are worse. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) exclusive breastfeeding rates have stagnated, with less than 40% of infants under six months of age being exclusively breastfed.

Along with having low rates for exclusive breastfeeding Tanzania has some of the highest rates of child undernutrition in the world, with 42% of children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth. I was shocked to find out one of the small girls called Zai, who had brought me passion fruits every day, was seven years old. By looking at her I thought she could be no more than five. It was only later one of the neighbours told me that as an infant she suffered with frequent bouts of diarrhoea and became quite malnourished. She suspects this was because, at the time, the family did not have access to safe clean drinking water.

Breastfeeding is one key intervention, identified by the Lancet, which can help prevent children from becoming malnourished. It can help to protect children from killer diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, which can also exacerbate malnutrition further. New research suggest that infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more like to die of diarrhoea than those who are exclusively breastfed.

Despite it being a free and natural way to protect a newborn baby, sub-optimal breastfeeding practices are responsible for approximately 804,000 child deaths each year. This is largely due to too little attention is being paid to help mums breastfeed.

It is not simply enough to tell mothers to ‘breastfeed’ if we are not providing them with an enabling environment for them to do so. We need to make sure mothers, especially mother who are struggling with breastfeeding, are given adequate support, education and accessibility.”

Read the full article on the Huffington Post.

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From → Nutrition

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