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South Africa, 2 August 2018: UNICEF and breastfeeding: Providing the best start for every newborn

PRETORIA, South Africa, 2 August 2018 – South Africa celebrates World Breastfeeding Week annually in the first week of August and UNICEF has been active partner on this since its inception. The aim of the week is to promote the benefits of breastfeeding, warn of the risks of formula feeding, motivate the healthcare system to encourage breastfeeding, and to promote support for mothers in their communities. Growing evidence shows that improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of more than 800,000 children under 5 every year, the vast majority of whom are under six months of age.

Beyond survival, credible data shows that breastfeeding boosts children’s brain development and provides protection against being overweight and obesity. Mothers also reap important health benefits from breastfeeding, including a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes. In South Africa, data indicates that 89 per cent of newborns were put to the breast within the first hour of birth, and a further 9 per cent of newborns received breastmilk within 24 hours of delivery.

With this in mind, UNICEF has launched a global report on the early initiation of breastfeeding, titled Capture the Moment. Early Initiation of Breastfeeding: The best start for every newborn. The report presents the situation of early initiation of breastfeeding and describes trends over the past ten years for over 70 low- and middle-income countries, as well as several high-income countries. Drawing from an analysis of early initiation rates among babies delivered by skilled birth attendants, the report describes key findings and examines the factors that both help and hinder an early start to breastfeeding. The report outlines key learnings from countries where rates of early initiation have improved or deteriorated and concludes with recommendations for policy and programmatic action.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond. The early initiation of breastfeeding – putting newborns to the breast within the first hour of life – is critical to newborn survival and to establishing breastfeeding over the long term. When breastfeeding is delayed after birth, the consequences can be life-threatening – and the longer newborns are left waiting, the greater the risk.

Combining work and breastfeeding create considerable pressures for working women with new-born babies. As a result, many women who intend to return to work may be discouraged from initiating breastfeeding and others stop breastfeeding when they return to work due to unsupportive work environment. South Africa has adopted the Code of Good Practice in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 which provides that arrangements should be made to enable women who are returning to work to have two breaks every day for up to 30 minutes for breastfeeding purposes until their child is six months old.

As part of the recent Breastfeeding Policy Review, a survey conducted among 11 different organizations regarding breastfeeding support policy showed that only 5 had a written policy providing breastfeeding breaks for 6 months[1].

[1] Martin-Wiesner, P. A policy review: South Africa’s progress in systematizing it international and national responsibilities to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, 2018



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