Bridget Mananavire 3 August 2017
HARARE – Zimbabwe is not doing enough to help mothers breastfeed their
babies for the recommended minimum of six months, a UN-backed study has
said, as it called for government to pass laws for paid maternity leave.
Experts said investing in breastfeeding – which helps prevent infant
deaths and boosts physical development and IQ – could save hundreds of
thousands of children’s lives and bring major economic benefits.
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations
Children’s Fund (Unicef) found that Zimbabwe was not fully meeting the
recommended standards, with less than 50 percent of young babies
exclusively breastfed for six months, as recommended by WHO.
“By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their
babies – and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost
opportunity,” Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said.
A scorecard released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week that runs
from August 1-7 alongside a new analysis, demonstrated that an annual
investment of only $4,70 per new-born is required to increase the rate of
exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50 percent by
Boosting the rate to 50 percent by 2025 would save the lives of thousands
of young children and potentially generate millions in economic gains over
10 years, the report said.
The gains would result from reduced illness and health care costs and
“There are several breastfeeding issues which include early introduction
of porridge and traditional herbs, inadequate complementary feeding,
fontanel issues, and mothers thinking they do not produce enough breast
milk; among others,” a joint press release by Unicef and WHO says.
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Household Survey (ZDHS 2015), 98
percent of children in Zimbabwe are breastfed, with only 48 percent being
exclusively breastfed or given nothing but breast milk for the first six
months of life and 14 percent breastfed until they are two years old.
“Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life,” WHO director
general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Breast milk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from
potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need
to survive and thrive.”
Pediatricians say exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six
months can help prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of
infant deaths, and reduces the risk of infections, allergies and sudden
infant death syndrome.
It also improves babies’ cognitive development and protects mothers
against ovarian and breast cancer.
UN organs are also calling for the enactment of paid family leave and
workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labour
Organisation’s maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement,
including provisions for the informal sector.