Bridget Phiri looks happy as she breastfeeds her one-year-old baby.
She feels breast feeding is more important to her child than baby formulas and other feeding supplies that are also costly.
The 24-year-old mother, who lives with her husband in Area 25, says she breastfeeds her baby whenever the child feels hungry.
“I was told of the importance of breastfeeding my baby. So I breast feed her every time she seems hungry,” explains Bridget.
She says she is not ashamed to breastfeed in public even though she is a young mother.
“It is not embarrassing to breastfeed your baby in a public place. What if you are at a place where there is no privacy and everybody is looking at everybody? Can a woman let her own baby starve because she feels ashamed?” she wonders.
Valentine Banda, a mother too, does not believe that some women express breast milk.
“I do not think they put their own milk in those bottles. I have never done that. I don’t think it’s healthy,’ says Banda.
She expresses concern that some women, especially single mothers who are in their 20s do not want to breastfeed their babies for fear of their breasts losing firmness.
Flora Khonje, a breastfeeding expert at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe, says a woman needs to breastfeed her child for 24 months after the baby is born; and exclusively breast feed the baby for the first six months.
“Exclusive breastfeeding involves giving the baby breast milk only without any addition of food or drink, not even water. The process reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses. Thus, a mother needs to breastfeed after every 30 minutes or an hour.
“Most children who are stunted and lack common sense were not breast fed appropriately when they were very young. Others even suffer from malnutrition,” explains Khonje.
World Health Organisation reports indicate that malnutrition covers one-third of 8.1 million deaths annually among children of less than five years.
Khonje, however, says there are some women especially those who give birth at home who do not give their babies the first breast milk because of beliefs whereas others believe it is unhealthy because of its yellow colour.
“That milk is the best and helps in boosting the infant’s immunity. The yellow colour means the milk is rich in cholesterol. It protects the infant against infectious diseases,” she says.
Khonje condemns mothers who are ashamed to breastfeed in public and those who do not regularly breastfeed their babies.
She says even mothers who are HIV positive are encouraged to breast feed their babies exclusively for the first six months after following certain health procedures.