Experts call for joint efforts to support exclusive breastfeeding

27Nov 2020
Getrude Mbago
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Experts call for joint efforts to support exclusive breastfeeding

​​​​​​​HEALTH experts and stakeholders in the country have called for more coordinated efforts to ensure that infants are exclusively breastfed in their first six months after birth.

According to the 2015 Tanzania Demographic Health Survey, only 59 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed in their first six month of life with over 40 percent children lacking the essential service, a factor which contributes highly to under-five deaths.

Prof Karim Manji, a pediatrician at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) acknowledged that despite strides made by the government and stakeholders to promote exclusive breastfeeding, there is still a good number of infants who do not receive the service.

Prof Manji noted that although breastfeeding is a natural process, it is reported to be influenced by different socio-cultural factors, habits, standards, and behaviors.

He said that it has also been proven that infants that are exclusively breastfed are also 14 times less likely to die within their first six months of life, compared to infants that are not exclusively breastfed.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to keep infants safe from various diseases in the early development and lifetime; breast milk has high immune globulins that help an infant to be safe from infections as they contain antibodies,” he said.

He said that breastfeeding also reduces deaths due to respiratory tract infections and diarrhea, which are two of the main causes of death for children in Tanzania.

He also urged mothers to stop giving their babies artificial milk (formula feeding) as these are not safe for infants.

“This needs coordinated efforts to educate the public on the effects of formula feeding, parents should be educated on this intensively when they attend clinics,” he said.

A paediatrician and breastfeeding specialist from Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Dr Mariam Noorani highlighted several challenges that thwart exclusive breastfeeding in the country.

“There is widespread knowledge about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and most mothers would wish to exclusively breastfeed. However, there are many challenges that families face that may result in the baby not being able to complete exclusive breastfeeding,” he noted.

Dr Mariam named some of the challenges as some mothers feeling like their milk is not enough and thus start giving additional milk.

Another reason is poor support from their families including husbands.

Dr Mariam urged men to be supportive to their wives during breastfeeding and stop giving them unnecessary stresses as this can reduce the amount of milk.

“Shortage of trained health care providers who can support breastfeeding as well as adequate support for mothers to be able to continue breastfeeding even after maternity leave. This can include national policies to strongly allow babies at the workplace and a space to express and store milk,” she added.

She also said that many women face breastfeeding difficulties like sore nipples, infections, baby refusing the breast or low milk supply. These problems need to be adequately managed for exclusive breastfeeding to continue.

“Training health care workers in breastfeeding support will ensure that mothers receive support that they need. In many countries, there are trained specialists called lactation consultants who manage breastfeeding problems. We should make such a training program available locally,” Dr Mariam said.

The expert further admitted that because many mothers don’t follow the recommendations by health experts that babies should receive regular breastfeeding for their first six months or so, acute malnutrition and stunting are still common among local children.

She emphasized that breast milk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease with newborns, accounting for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, saying early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.

“With breast milk being the major medicine and protection to various baby diseases, we have the specialists to intensify our efforts so that many more Tanzanian children and their mothers benefit from optimal breastfeeding practices,” she noted.

She said that lactating mothers should be given special consideration to ensure that they exclusively breastfed their children to help prevent diseases. Read More...