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World Breastfeeding Week 2013

Breastfeeding is better for babies

The University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Department of Dietetics together with the Western Cape Government’s Department of Health (Nutrition) held a conference at UWC’s School of Public Health focusing on the topic of “Restoring breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice for infants”.

It was revealed that South Africa has low exclusive breastfeeding rates and poor child feeding practices. While breastfeeding is common in South Africa, the majority of infants aged 0-6 months are not given breast milk exclusively. This early introduction of other fluids and foods, called mixed feeding, is responsible for high rates of diarrhoea and contributes significantly to infant malnutrition and death.

To provide and discuss solutions for future generations, the conference was divided into three plenary sessions, providing evidence in support of breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice, summarising the relevant policies of the Department of Health to create an enabling environment for women to breastfeed, and sharing free scientific communications related to breastfeeding practices and the perceptions of women, communities and health care workers.

Dr Lesley Bamford, a senior paediatric specialist at the Child and Youth Health Directorate of the National Department of Health, delivered the keynote address.

She noted the worldwide decline in infant mortality over the past few decades, but remarked that South Africa is not achieving its Millennium Development Goals (MDG). “The number of deaths for children aged 0-4 worldwide declined from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, and the rate of the decline has accelerated - from 1.8% per year during the 1990s to 3.2% per year in 2000 and 2010”.   Despite this decline, she lamented that too many children still die unnecessarily with 19 000 children under five years of age passing away daily in 2011, noting that the MDG4 (which deals with reducing child mortality) target of reducing child deaths by two-thirds by 2015 will not be achieved. “One of the key findings of the Lancet 2008 series was that the critical periods are that of pregnancy and the first two years of life, referred to as the first 1000 days of a child’s life, in which good nutrition and healthy growth have lasting benefits throughout life,” she explained.

Another key finding was that optimal breastfeeding practices, identified as exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months followed by continued breastfeeding for as long as possible preferably for 24 months, has potentially the single largest impact on child survival of all preventative interventions with the potential to prevent 12-13% of all deaths in children under five years of age in the developing world, or 1.4 million deaths a year.

“New data has highlighted the linkages between maternal and child health, and between nutrition, survival and long term developmental outcomes. The improvement of maternal and child survival is regarded as a national priority, and strengthening exclusive breastfeeding as a practice is understood to be a key component”, said Bamford.

Lastly, the challenge is to ensure that every mother and child receives a comprehensive integrated package of health and nutrition interventions, which includes breastfeeding information and support,” she said.

“The key to best breastfeeding practices is continued day-to-day support for the breastfeeding mother within her home and community.  This support can and should be provided by family and social networks, workplaces, health care systems, and through relevant legislation”.

For more information contact Professor Rina Swart at 021 959 2760 or via email at

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UWC TV:  World Breastfeeding Week 2013