UNICEF & WHO welcome South Africa’s efforts to protect and support breastfeeding
Pretoria, 15 March 2012 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) welcome last week’s publication by the Government of South Africa of draft regulations based on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and World health Assembly Resolutions. The regulations promote and support breastfeeding as the best infant feeding option and protect babies and their parents from aggressive or inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes.
UNICEF and the WHO call on all stakeholders from Parliament and civil society to support the speedy passage of the draft regulations into legislation. The draft regulations are currently open for public comment and are expected to be presented before Parliament in April 2012.
South Africa has the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the world – at eight per cent. Lack of understanding of the critical benefits of breastfeeding, compounded by fears of HIV transmission, among other factors, has hindered progress to promote and support breastfeeding in the country.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding should be started within the first hour after birth, and that all babies – regardless of the mother’s HIV status – should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Safe, nutritious complementary feeding should be started in the sixth month and breastfeeding continued for up to two years.
Breastfeeding saves lives by protecting babies from diarrhoea and pneumonia – the biggest killers of infants and children in South Africa – and is strongly associated with improved development and educational achievement. Babies do not need liquids other than breast milk in the first 6 months as breast milk contains all the water and nutrients a baby needs.
The WHO recently revised recommendations on breastfeeding in the context of HIV based on new evidence showing that when mothers living with HIV and their babies take antiretroviral medicines (ARV) the risk of HIV transmission is almost entirely prevented.
Subsequently, South Africa revised its recommendations and expanded access to ARVs for mothers and their babies. In accordance with the Tshwane declaration endorsed by the Department of Health in 2011, mothers will no longer be offered replacement feeding in health facilities and will be encouraged and supported to breastfeed their infants.