EXPERTS have commended the country’s breastfeeding trend which is currently amongst the highest in the region and encouraged mothers to continue breastfeeding even after they would have tested positive for COVID-19.
By Patricia Mashiri
Speaking to HealthTimes, Mr Dexter Chagwena, a Nutritionist Consultant in the Ministry of Health and Child Care said the breastfeeding trend in Zimbabwe has been good even though there is need to improve on exclusive breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding trend in Zimbabwe has been fairly good. We are a breastfeeding country where about between 96-98% of our children are breastfed at some time. We generally tend to breastfeed early enough within the first 30 minutes to an hour after birth and most babies have been breastfed for longer periods.
“What has been worrying is the exclusive breastfeeding rates where babies should get only breastfed for 6months. We only have about 42% of our children who are younger than six months exclusively breastfed. The duration of breastfeeding is supposed to be two years. What we are realizing is that whilst mostly mothers are breastfeeding, they are introducing infant formula or other milks early. General babies who are not breastfed tend not to do well. Breastmilk has some antibodies that protects babies from diseases,” said Chagwena.
He added that mothers who breastfeed had lower chances of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
Dr Tonderayi Matsungo from Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences, University of Zimbabwe warned young mothers not to rely on infant formula.
“In Zimbabwe we have been doing fairly well on exclusive breastfeeding. We have room for improvement where we should have all (100%) of the children below 6 months being exclusively breastfed. There are inherent barriers to breastfeeding that still exist in our communities that still need to be addressed at policy and pragmatic levels across all sectors.
“In Zimbabwe majority are breastfed. However, there is a worrying trend of increasing bottle feeding particularly among young and or the working mothers. So, the government and its partners will need to work overtime to promote and protect breastfeeding in our context,” Dr Matsungo said.
Dr Matsungo added that the benefits of breastfeeding new-born babies were huge and likewise, the dangers of not breastfeeding babies were clear and avoidable. He also advised mothers not to stop breastfeeding in attempt to protect the baby from being infected.
“However, COVID-19 positive mothers can still continue to safely breastfeed their babies as the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health and Child Care breastfeeding does not spread COVID-19. There is also massive advertising of breast milk substitutes affects mostly the young mothers. They end up thinking it’s fashionable to give the baby the bottle over breastfeeding,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Kudakwashe Zombe, a nutritionist and the National Coordinator for the Zimbabwe Civil Society Scaling Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) said there should be more policies supporting breastfeeding mothers especially in working environments.
“Many breastfeeding mothers have challenges in balancing child caring practices including breastfeeding with household work burden. Maternity protection laws in the country do not support, promote or protect breastfeeding women. Women are only given around 98 days of paid maternity leave and most work environments do not have convenient spaces for women to express and store breast milk. These challenges leave some breastfeeding mothers without many options but to give babies other foods.
“We have been engaging policy makers in ensuring that breastfeeding is promoted, protected and supported. This year the parliament of Zimbabwe established a parent friendly room to support lactating parliamentarians and supporting staff,” Zombe said.