On 23 August 2011 the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, issued a statement saying that government has decided to adopt breastfeeding as the only strategy to feed infants. He further said the distribution of breast milk substitutes through health facilities would be discontinued. Motsoaledi believes it’s essential to do this as South Africa is one of 12 countries in the world where the child mortality rate has been on the increase. The minister said this method is safe and would assist in reducing the death of babies in the country.
This grabbed my attention as I had just given birth at the time. I have been exclusively breast feeding my baby for six months now. This has meant my child who lives with me in the rural areas of Bushbuck Ridge has been fed no other forms of liquidised or solid food. It has also made things easy for me as we live in an area where shops and places for basic needs are far. As a young mother I decided to discuss the feeding plan with my mother and she understood, but I live in a close knit community and as a result everyone tends to be an expert on the subject of breast-feeding, as they are experts on other subjects too. When my baby turned one month old I constantly had to explain my reasons for not feeding him porridge to community members. They think he starves if I don't. Sometimes I couldn’t answer all their questions so when they ask now, I just tell them it’s my decision and the baby is healthy.
My research has now told me that breastfed babies are better protected against infections like diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, allergies and ear infections. They are at much lower risk of malnutrition, and as adults are at lower risk of chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Mother-child bonding is also accelerated through breastfeeding. This means that breastfeeding is not just about nutrition! With lack of jobs in the rural areas it becomes hard to start mixed feeding at an early age so my method is cheap on the pocket too.
I have also been motivated by the fact that my child will be better protected as many rural areas, like my village, suffer from a lack of sanitation and running water. With enough support from some of the health workers it was easy dealing with the critics when it came to my decision.
They say breastfeeding helps reduce the chances of the child becoming HIV positive as well if the mother has the disease and in South Africa that leads to many mothers fearing being judged of being HIV positive when they choose to exclusively breastfeed. They would rather put their child’s life in danger rather than explain their true reasons to the community. Some young mothers I know who have taken the same decision as me are facing that challenge right now.
Although Motsoaledi’s plan is endorsed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, I think he needs to embark on proper awareness campaigns in the rural areas before going ahead with it. This is essential in a country where we are still faced with many challenges mentioned above.