Mothers all over the world have been reminded about the importance of breastfeeding as the best way to promote the health for their babies.
The World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) held every year from 1 to 7 August in more than 120 countries, was an opportunity to promote exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of the baby’s life. The week was first celebrated in 1992, and mothers around the world have been educated on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Male parents and employers are also asked to support and encourage the feeding of infants in the first six months after birth. World Health Organization (WHO) and health experts particularly, paediatricians agree that the practice yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia, fostering growth and development.
This year, the WHO is also encouraging people to ‘Support mothers to breastfeed anytime, anywhere, and society has a role to play in making our communities more breastfeeding-friendly’.
Like in many countries, mothers in Zanzibar expressed their happiness and appreciated the awareness about the best way to feed the infants, but raised their voices high about unfriendly environment for the breastfeeding.
Mothers in villages however, complained about poverty facing them, while working women said their workplace is unfriendly for breastfeeding and that employers have been doing little to improve the situation.
‘Health experts are encouraging breastfeeding and our culture and religions emphasise on the practice. But the problem is that most of us cannot stay with our infants for long at home,’ says Ms. Kazija Khamis. She has to leave early in the morning to look for water, and then go out farming until after midday or late in the evening and that she is always busy with life and that the only convenient time is at night.
Ms. Khamis said most of the women in villages lack enough time to stay with their babies because of economic difficulties which forces them out, with the husbands being unable to care for the family. ‘The children miss us a lot, but without economy empowerment, it becomes difficult to breastfeed the infant as required.
‘The world should help fight poverty and also husbands should understand that it is their responsibility too,’ said Mr. Khamis. Ms. Khadija Suleiman is an employee of a private company. ‘It is a good idea to be close to the baby, but it requires commitment by all people. Husbands should agree and employers have to allow carrying a baby to workplace and freedom to breastfeed.’
Ms. Suleiman said the call by WHO encouraging people to support mums to breastfeed anytime, anywhere and that society has a role to play in making our communities is good, but implementing may take long. ‘Even in our transportation systems in both road and sea, it is difficult to breastfeed.
‘A lot of reforms have to be done so that the intended goal can be achieved,’ she said. Addressing mothers and other people at the climax of the WBW, here the Deputy Minister for Health Ms. Harusi Said Suleiman said her ministry has been encouraging breastfeeding, but unfortunately research indicates the practice is still low in the islands.
She said statistics from the UNICEF in 2015 shows that only half of the infants population around the world are breastfed, leading to the malnutrition and child mortality due to weakness against diseases. Ms. Suleiman said data for Zanzibar indicate that only 61% of newly born babies or of age 0-23 months are breastfed, as she appealed to mothers to take the practice seriously for the proper development of children.
Ms. Elizabeth Macha from UNICEF informed the gathering that the newborns are at risk of contracting diseases and death if not breastfed for 2 to 23 hours after birth. ‘It is unfortunate that despite the culture of breastfeeding in Tanzania, many women still fail to observe the practice.’
She said in 2014, only 41% of the babies were properly breastfed in Tanzania, while in Unguja alone statistics showed 20% and Pemba Islands it was lower with only 10%.
Ms. Asha Hassan from nutrition department – Ministry of Health said women needs breastfeeding knowledge, while the Director of Prevention from the same Ministry Dr. Fadhil Mohammed Abdalla emphasised on the importance of ensuring all women understand the values of the practice for proper growth of children.
The WBW 2016 theme is about how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share.
‘WHO explained that breastfeeding is a key to sustainable development, it is particularly through the links between breastfeeding and nutrition and food security; health, development and survival.
‘It is also through achieving full educational potential and economic productivity and the fact that breastfeeding is an environmentally sustainable method of feeding compared to the alternatives.’ While UNICEF and the WHO promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, only few infants under six months are exclusively breastfed, as many mothers use breast milk substitutes, such as baby milk formulas.