Malawi has joined the rest of the world in commemorating the World Breastfeeding Week with a call to mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies in the first six months to ensure proper growth.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) set aside the breastfeeding week to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
This year the week, from August 1 to 7, is being celebrated under the theme Empower Parents. Enable Breastfeeding.
Speaking in Phalombe on Friday when he presided over the launch of the week, Minister of Health and Population Jappie Mhango highlighted the importance of breastfeeding in preventing sickness and stunted growth among children.
He said: “A child that has been breastfed for up to two years develops extremely well and is very intelligent. Mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies, starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old.
“Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond. This will enable Malawi prevent unnecessary deaths of babies.”
Speaking on behalf of donors that support nutrition interventions in Malawi, chairperson for nutrition donors Grace Omondi collaborated with Mhango, adding that research has shown that babies, who are exclusively breastfed, acquire optimal immunity and get the best start in life.
She said: “Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and children alike. According to the World Health Organisation, increased breastfeeding can globally save more than 800 000 lives every year, the majority being children under six months.
“Breastfeeding decreases the risk of mothers developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type two diabetes, and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20 000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer.”
However, she lamented that despite its well-documented benefits, breastfeeding is not yet a norm in some communities due to various myths.
“A nation cannot discuss development and exclude breastfeeding. This provides us with justification for increased investment in nutrition—both specific and sensitive activities—in Malawi. The annual domestic budget and long-term resource allocation decisions need to take greater account of this evidence and its expected return on investment for allocations,” said Omondi.
The breastfeeding week was set aside at the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, Unicef and other organisations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
This year, WHO is working with Unicef and other partners to promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding and help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life when it matters most.
During the function, the minister awarded Phalombe, Dedza, Lilongwe, Ntchisi, Karonga, and Mchinji districts for promoting breastfeeding.