Is exclusive breastfeeding old-fashioned?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for children until they are six months old and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding up to two years. This, WHO argues, will ensure optimal growth and development of a child.

WHO further argues that breastfeeding has both short and long-term nutritional benefits for children, adding nutrition is central to sustainable development.

Senior Chief Kachindamoto; Junk food will not take us anywhere

Good nutrition in the first 1 000 days of a child’s life is critical for growth, well-being, survival and future productivity.

Says Chief Kachindamoto of Dedza: “Junk foods will not take us anywhere. I am 56 today and I am told my mum breastfed me for three years.

“I also did the same with all my kids, and just like me, they all grew up healthy.”

She adds that breast milk has numerous benefits to both the infant and mother. And she is not alone in this.

United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) even goes a step further, declaring that children exclusively breastfed for over six months are 14 times more likely to survive than those who are not.

The UN agency says breast milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding. It is the normal food for infants from birth as it contains all the essential nutrients, antibodies and other factors essential for growth and development. In short, it just cannot be replicated.

A woman breastfeeds her baby

The Ministry of Health and Population agrees that breastfeeding is vital to human development as it provides the child with some colostrum, which is produced during the first few days after birth.

The ‘first’ milk differs from both transitional and mature milk as it contains a higher amount of protein, less fat and a number of immunising factors for the new-born.

On the other hand, mature milk, which contains energy levels varying between 270 and 315 kilojoules per 100 milliliters, is mainly for growth.

It comes after the transition milk period of eight to 20 days when lactation is established and production of milk begins in the breast tissue. Mature milk continues to provide immune factors and other important non-nutritional components to the infant; hence, experts continued push for exclusive breastfeeding.

But for the Makumba Family of Area 25 in Lilongwe, such a ‘gospel truth’ came a little too late for them.

Married over a decade ago, the couple had their first two children in quick succession. Only a year separated the births of their first two boys.

Consequently, the first born had a troubled infancy as the two grew up like twins. Now aged 11, some traits of stunted growth remain in their first born. Surely, he never got enough chance on her mother’s lap.

In contrast, their third child enjoyed a rich form of health and she still does todate.

According to Charity Salima, a 56-year-old Lilongwe-based nurse who worked for the Malawi Government for 16 years before she established her own clinic in 2008, such cases emanate from what she called a psychological gap the child suffers when weaned before the stipulated period.

“Of course, and it is nothing to do with poverty in the home per se. Food may abound in the home but some children may still suffer from malnutrition simply because that psychological bond between them and the mother was not given enough time to develop. Breastfeeding enhances such a bond,” she says.

But poor family planning and ignorance are not the only reasons ‘forcing’ mothers to wean their babies earlier than stipulated.

In a world so dynamic where materialism seems to take centre stage amid ever growing responsibilities, more mothers are embracing careers as their other ‘children’.

Careers in women go together with fashion and modernisation. The urge in young mothers to remain ‘in form’ as long as their looks are concerned seems to take a toll in a modern society. It seems everyone wants to live long, absolutely no one wants to grow old!

As such, various myths abound as regards motherhood, let alone breastfeeding.

For Rachel Jumbe of Area 18 in Lilongwe, exclusive breastfeeding is just a non-starter.

This is not to say that she does not appreciate the importance of breastfeeding. As an accountant, she must know better.  It is because she is a career woman.

“My job is too involving to accord such a time for my child,” says Jumbe, who works at one of the insurance firms in the Capital City. “It is not that I don’t miss my child, I really do, but then I have to put food on the table; hence, my decision to stop breastfeeding her after the first six months.”

It has been 13 months now since Karen, her daughter, was stopped breastfeeding. Luckily, her working mother can afford complementary feeding. Since then, she has been on some baby milk formulae.

At a girls’ empowerment workshop in Lilongwe recently, some participants discussed fears over lengthy breastfeeding, putting the exclusive breadfeeding campaign at risk.

“The issue is that the breasts droop low with continued breastfeeding and one easily looks old.  Chances are high that men may find their spouses less attractive,” said one girl one.

A debate ensues and another one chips in, saying that it all depends on one’s genetic set-up. And then there is the issue of bras and breast-firming creams for those whose mammary glands ‘fail them’ whenever they give birth.

But as Kachindamoto said, the young generation is getting it all wrong. A mother of five, she argues that much as people in town may easily strive for various modern complementary foods, it is the village child solely on exclusive breastfeeding that stands out when it comes to healthy living.

She says people from the rural areas take civic education seriously unlike their urban counterparts whom she says develop a complacent approach owing to their “superior literacy levels.”

“What we are missing today is the fact that breastfeeding is not only about a child or the mother, it affects us all. A mother’s milk contains immune-related components and growth factors most of which equate to psychological challenges in one’s life if proper measures were not taken during infancy,” she says.

Salima agrees with Kachindamoto, stressing that the socio-economic challenge may somehow be connected to troubled childhood.

“We are talking of people who grew up feeling disconnected from their mothers. By nature, people need to feel loved. Don’t expect people who have not ever loved in such a way to exert love towards others,” she says.

As such, the two have no kind words to those coming up with what the two call lame excuses against exclusive breastfeeding.

“I think those arguing that breastfeeding takes away the beauty, do not know what they want,” Kachindamoto retorts.

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