An article published recently in International Journal of Pediatrics states that  “A majority of the mothers [surveyed in Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania] were positive towards breastfeeding. They believed that it prevents child sickness, creates happiness, and is good for family economy. Despite the positive attitudes, the mothers revealed many perceptions that interfered with breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding. These included the following: breast milk is very light and has bad odor, breastfeeding may affect mothers appearance, chango (abdominal pain) has to be treated, there is fear of the evil eye when breastfeeding in public places, breast milk may become unclean, and there is a need of pauses in breastfeeding after the child has burped on the breast. … There are beliefs that promote the practice of breastfeeding … these local beliefs could be used to develop breastfeeding messages to improve breastfeeding practices. However, there is also a need to address beliefs that interfere with the practice of exclusive breastfeeding in this setting.”

The theme of this year’s International Breastfeeding Week is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. In line with this theme, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counseling, a critical component of breastfeeding support.

Breastfeeding counseling and training is a key aspect of the support that Maternity Africa provides to the women and girls who deliver their babies at Kivulini Maternity Centre in Northern Tanzania, close to where the research took place.

The World Health Organiztion states that:

“Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers. And it forms part of a sustainable food system. But while breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy. Mothers need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.

Skilled counseling services can ensure that mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, the advice, and the reassurance they need to nourish their babies optimally. Breastfeeding counseling can help mothers to build confidence while respecting their individual circumstances and choices. Counseling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeeding, such as the provision of unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children.

Improving access to skilled counseling for breastfeeding can extend the duration of breastfeeding and promote exclusive breastfeeding, with benefits for babies, families and economies. Indeed, analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children every year.”

Please follow this link if you would like to help Maternity Africa to make childbirth safe for marginalized women and girls in Tanzania – and so that they can receive vital training and support for breastfeeding their new babies. Thank you.

(Picture courtesy of UNICEF)