SA’s exclusive breastfeeding rate is the lowest in the world

This week (1-7 August 2016) the National Department of Health joins the rest of global community to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week in order to reinforce the importance of supporting exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months of an infant’s life, in order to improve the health of babies in South Africa.

This year’s theme is: “No matter who you are, you can support a mother to breastfeed her baby for a better, healthier life.”

Minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says, “It is of great concern that exclusive breastfeeding rates, globally and in our country, are extremely low. Globally it is estimated that only 36% of moms breastfeed their infants for at least six months. In South Africa we estimate that only 39% of mothers breastfeed exclusively for 14 weeks after the baby is born and the figure is much lower at 6 months at only 8%.”

The lack of support for breastfeeding is attributed to the following:

  • Inadequate information from health care workers on breastfeeding management.
  • Lack of support within households with negative attitudes towards breastfeeding.
  • Unsupportive work environments.

As a result these conditions make it difficult for women to breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue breastfeeding for two years or longer, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The National Department of Health’s objectives for World Breastfeeding week are:

  • To emphasise the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers, to improve exclusive and continued breastfeeding.
  • To highlight the role of family, community, health care workers, employers/workplace, public places creating an enabling environment that supports breastfeeding.
  • To inform people about the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they relate to breastfeeding.
  • To inform the public about Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF)
  • To influence the attitudes and behaviours of the public to recognise (and encourage others) that exclusive breastfeeding during the six months of life is the normal and ideal way of feeding an infant to ensure growth optimal growth and development.
  • Recognise and encourage others that after six months, the introduction of appropriate complementary foods whilst continuous breastfeeding up to two years.

Motsoaledi concludes, “Our exclusive breastfeeding rates are amongst the lowest in the world.  We must all work harder to ensure that we support mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and rapidly reach a target of at least 50% of mothers breastfeeding for at least six months after the infant is born. This will require an extra mile by all of us to encourage and support breastfeeding mothers by improving their workplace and social environment.”