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2 September 2016
World Public Health Nutrition Congress 2016

World Public Health Nutrition Conference at UWC zooms in on breastfeeding

Several countries were represented in discussing issues pertaining to the challenges of world nutrition. Topics ranged from obesity to breastfeeding at the second annual World Public Health Nutrition Congress, hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) from 30 August to 2 September 2016.

The theme this year was entitled Addressing the Double Burden of Malnutrition in a Globalised World. At this year’s installment of the Nutrition Congress, attendees were treated to scientific presentations, critical debates and planned actions.

Researchers, policymakers, students, and activists came together from different fields ranging from land and agriculture, through to dietetics, food retail and advertising, health systems, and nutritional outcomes.

The first 1000 days: Nutrition, breastfeeding and healthy babies

Professor Ameena Goga, a chief specialist scientist at the Health Systems Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council discussed breastfeeding in a session focusing on the infant’s first 1 000 days.

She said in South Africa the challenge is to convince more women to breastfeed their babies and keep them breastfeeding exclusively (only breast milk with no formula in between) for longer. “The results of three national surveys to determine whether more mothers are opting to breastfeed showed exclusive breastfeeding was on the increase, which is good news since women generally opted for mixed to no breastfeeding.”

These increases were measured between 2010 and 2013, and followed a national Consultation in 2011, where South Africa adopted the Tshwane Declaration of Support for Breastfeeding.

“These increases were seen across all provinces and all socioeconomic groups, suggesting a population wide effect of national policy change,” she said.

“Although we are improving in our breastfeeding practices, we are still below the desired level of exclusive breastfeeding - but it is good news nevertheless, as breastfeeding has long-term advantages for mother and baby. Breastfeeding protects against common childhood infections and diseases in the first two years of life - and research has shown the effect of pneumonia and diarrhoea is not as severe in breastfed children.”

But she advised that in South Africa we need to support our breastfeeding mothers by creating infrastructures and support systems in favour of breastfeeding, especially in the workplace and in communities where mothers work long hours as domestic workers or farm labourers, without formal maternity protection.

“The examples we have heard from countries like Brazil are quite inspiring. They have breast banks that collect breast milk from donors and distribute it to mothers who are unable to breastfeed. Additionally, in Nordic countries and in Canada, supportive legal frameworks facilitate income protection and extended maternity leave after the birth of a baby.”

Several South African NGOs were represented in this session and were inspired by what was achieved in South Asia in making breastfeeding a more feasible option for the breastfeeding mother in a formal work environment.

In a presentation on Protecting Breastfeeding Through Workplace Support, a mother-baby friendly office movement which was piloted in South Asia, has shown great success.

Esther Indriani, a health and nutrition advisor for World Vision working with children and families to help overcome poverty, said their health nutrition and breastfeeding programme trains mothers, health workers and volunteers in breastfeeding.

She shared several proposed steps to achieve a mother-baby friendly office:

  • Information on breastfeeding should be provided during pregnancy and care and support should continue during pregnancy, as well as postnatal breastfeeding support while women are at home.

  • Paid leave before delivery

  • Time off for all antenatal care appointments

  • Travel flexibility: Flexibility on travel requirements, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy and in the first year after childbirth, is very helpful for the mother and baby’s well-being.

  • Paid leave for new mothers & fathers: At least six months’ paid maternity leave to allow for exclusive breastfeeding; paid paternity leave for two weeks.

  • Flexible working hours: to accommodate infant feeding and care schedule (including working from home)

  • Mothers given adequate time each day to breastfeed / express breastmilk

  • The workplace should have a room for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk that is private, quiet and has electricity and a refrigerator onsite to keep milk cold.

  • Workplace has nursery crèche onsite for breastfeeding.

This will all help to contribute towards successful breastfeeding.