Protect breastfeeding; a shared responsibility is this year’s theme for the World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated annually from 1 to 7 August. Breastfeeding is an effective way to ensure child health and survival. Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond offers protection against all forms of malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Further, it acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses. It also reduces the risk of chronic diseases for both mother and child and enhances the social and emotional development of babies and children. Unfortunately, many women are not able to breastfeed for as long as they need, hence the need for support.
Successful Breastfeeding Requires Support
It Takes a Village
Every breastfeeding woman needs a village that supports her. At home, family members can provide much-needed support. Husbands and partners particularly have been shown to have the biggest influence on breastfeeding success. Grandparents and other carers also play an important supporting role. They can help to hold the baby to allow the mum some time to rest, assist with child care and household chores or simply offer praise and encouragement to the new mum.
Friends and social support groups also play a critical role in supporting breastfeeding. Even though you are not a mum yet, you can be there for your friend who is a mum to just listen. You can also offer help to run errands or whatever else she might need. Additionally, support groups are a great source of support as they provide a safe space for mums to learn from, and encourage one another.
In health care facilities, studies have shown that trained, nurses, doctors, and volunteers have a positive impact on breastfeeding. Mums who receive education, counseling, and support from the service providers breastfeed longer than those that do not. Fortunately, today when face-to-face interaction is being challenged by COVID 19, mums can receive support virtually as health care providers have taken to providing online support. So if you are experiencing challenges in breastfeeding or caring for your child, talk to your care provider.
Work Place Support
In the workplace, employers can support mums achieve their breastfeeding goals by addressing some issues. Do your employees have access to paid maternity leave? Do you have a clean and safe space where mums can express and store milk? Can mums have their little ones brought in to feed? How do you support the breastfeeding mum’s transition from maternity back to work? Right now, when working from home is encouraged, employers can also consider encouraging this for breastfeeding mums. Ultimately, everyone has a role in supporting breastfeeding and it starts with normalizing breastfeeding.
Lactating Mothers Need To Feel Safe
Babies need to be breastfed when they demand. This is possible when a mother feels safe to breastfeed. Whether in a bus, a restaurant, or any public space. Therefore, we need to make breastfeeding easier for mums. Especially now. See COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of things including breastfeeding due to fears that COVID-19 can be transmitted through breastmilk. But as the World Health Organization, has reported, there is no evidence that breast milk can transmit COVID-19. Mums who are COVID-19 infected should therefore be encouraged and supported to breastfeed while observing precaution measures. This includes; including wearing a mask when handling and breastfeeding the baby, washing hands with water and soap before and after handling the baby, and cleaning and or disinfecting contaminated surfaces. But where a mother is too ill to breastfeed, she should be encouraged to express milk and give it to the child using a clean cup and/or spoon – all while maintaining the precaution measures.
Remember we are still not out of the woods with COVID, so let us all observe the precaution measures. It’s the other way to supporting our breastfeeding loved ones, and keep them safe.
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