Zim failing to support breastfeeding: UN

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 2025.

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 increased productivity.

“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.

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