Breast feeding is such a natural and heartwarming act. One would think that it happens without urging or effort ÔÇô that that is affordable and easily accessible.
Yet according to World Health Organization (WHO), globally, less than 40 percent of infants under the age of six are exclusively breastfed. Many mothers are ditching breast feeding in favour of formula milk, in comparison to a few decades ago. Despite this surging trend that has slowly become the norm, WHO has maintained that breast feeding, remains the best source of nourishment for infants.
UNICEF further notes that strong national policies supporting breastfeeding could prevent the death of approximately one million children under age five in the developing world.
Most health practitioners assert that breast milk contains antibodies that protect against diarrhea and pneumonia, which are the primary causes of child mortality worldwide.
It also notes that breastfed children are noted to be less likely to be overweight and get type-2 diabetes. The benefits to mothers include reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and assisting mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.
WHO recommends that infants be breast fed until the age of six months, with solids being complemented by the breast milk right until the age of two. Although compelling evidence suggests that breast feeding fares much better than prepared formula milk, global rates of breast feeding have remained stagnant in the developing world, growing from 32 percent in 1995 to 35 percent in 2010.
In the past UNICEF Executive director Anthony Lake has argued that if breastfeeding were promoted more effectively and women protected from aggressive marketing of milk substitutes, we would see more children surviving and thriving, and experience lower rates of malnutrition and stunting.
While many mothers opt for milk formula, the risks outweigh the benefits. Firstly, milk formula is factory produced and doesn’t contain natural antibodies. When formula isn’t prepared properly, risks arise from unsterilized equipment, unsafe water and the presence of bacteria in the milk.
“There is also a malnutrition risk caused by over-diluting the milk formula. Some mothers do that to make it last longer, without realizing that the child doesn’t get sufficient nutrients because the mixture is too weak,” notes local nurse Mmilo Mmilo.
With the easily accessible option of artificial feeding, many mothers are spoilt for choice.
Naledi Moilwa* is a 29-year-old new mother. Her baby is four months old but already drinks formula milk. Naledi breastfed her baby for only a month. Her reason is odd but simple ÔÇô she doesn’t want sagging breasts. Most mothers are aware that breasts change after childbirth in preparation for feeding ÔÇô they become firmer, suppler and round. For ladies concerned with aesthetics and appearance, this could be good bye to sexy cleavage and firm “boobies” as Naledi points out. “I would like to breast feed but I don’t want my breasts to lose shape. I prefer them protruding and firm as they have always been, I have another older child and didn’t breast feed him either. I get a lot of slack from some friends and family members but I’m not deterred. I explained my reasons to my husband and although he laughed me off he understands. I mean, even he wouldn’t be pleased to see me with sagging breasts,” she says casually.
The common thought is that breasts lose their elasticity when the baby sucks and pulls at it. In a world of Hollywood aspirant looks and the aesthetics of eternal beauty and youthfulness, many women actively refuse to take the “sagging mama” route.
However, for 35-year-old Keamogetse Mogwatlhe, things are slightly different as she didn’t have a choice. She was only given two months maternity leave.
“I use a breast pump to express milk every morning and at lunch time. I drive home to drop off the milk and return to work. As much as I would like to bond with my baby and breast feed him, I have to work to earn a living. I’ve also been forced to complement the breast milk with formula, to make things easier for my child minder,” she says. She isn’t concerned with her breasts “losing shape”.
“A woman’s body will always change. I exercise regularly and pay attention to my diet to avoid becoming fat. My breasts have grown since I had a child but it’s natural. I think over time they will return to their regular size. Sagging occurs with wrong breastfeeding tactic. The mother should hold the baby close to them and press the front of the breast, to avoid cases of the baby stretching or biting during the suckling,” she notes.
Formula milk has also been in numerous controversies. Earlier this year, milk formula had to be recalled after claims that the products contained contamination of botulism causing bacteria.
Botulism has the clostridium botulinum bacteria, which apparently leads to paralysis and even death.
Following public scare about melamine tainted milk in 2008, China recalled milk products from shelves but not before six children had died and 300 000 fell ill on the mainland. Botswana has also suffered several scares about contaminated infant milk formula products. Furthermore, 500 of the children who died during diarrhea outbreaks between 2003 and 2011, are suspected to have probably not have been breastfed.
HIV positive mothers are sometimes forced to resort to using formula for fear of spreading the disease to their babies. However, supplying formula to mothers with HIV in an effort led by world health group UNICEF ÔÇô has cost as much lives, as it has saved.
Findings allude that benefits greatly outweigh the risks. The underlying reasons attest that few Africans, especially those in rural areas, have the means to prepare formula milk, which requires being prepared consistently in a sanitary manner.
Some are forced to return to work after their maternity leave period has elapsed, others struggle to express milk from their breasts while many others like Naledi, are concerned with the inevitable changes to the shape and appearance of their ‘lady bits’.