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South Africa

South African singer Zolani Mahalo hits the right notes on breastfeeding

© Freshlyground
In South Africa, where the exclusive breastfeeding rate is lower than 10 percent, the national health department has dedicated the entire month of August to breastfeeding awareness and promotion. Zolani Mahalo (centre), lead singer of the band Freshlyground and an expectant mother, is supporting the campaign.

By Emma De Villiers

Breastfeeding is the world’s most effective and least costly life-saver. It plays a critical role in reducing child mortality, protecting against infectious diseases, and preventing stunting, a form of chronic malnutrition that affects 165 million children globally. Along with providing many health benefits to the child, breastfeeding also aids in the mother’s recovery and has been shown to reduce post-partum depression and to lower the risk of ovarian and breast cancers later in life.

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 took place 1–7 August and this year focused on support for mothers, because more mothers breastfeed when they receive support, counselling and education in health centres and in their communities.

In South Africa, where the exclusive breastfeeding rate is lower than 10 percent, the national health department has dedicated the entire month of August to breastfeeding awareness and promotion. We spoke to Zolani Mahalo, lead singer of the band Freshlyground, about her pregnancy and her breastfeeding goals.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 12 August 2013 – Zolani Mahalo’s tiny frame stands in stark contrast to her powerful voice – its distinctive quality able to bring crowds to their feet. Zolani is the lead singer of South African Afro-fusion band Freshlyground. Their music is best described as a blend of folk, blues, jazz, indie rock and South African kwela.

But right now it’s not the band  – or the music – taking center stage. Zolani and her partner are eagerly expecting their first child.

“We’re absolutely thrilled about the pregnancy,” says Zolani. “I can’t wait to meet this little person developing inside of me, and I look forward to exploring the connection with my child.”

Zolani’s excitement at being a parent is only matched by her determination to give her baby the best start that a mother has to offer – breast milk.

“For me, the decision to breastfeed was a no-brainer,” says Zolani. “Your breast milk is exactly what your baby needs. Formula might have been scientifically formulated, but it doesn’t come close to the real thing.”

Benefitting the child – and the mother

Zolani’s stance on breast milk is firmly backed by research. According to the World Health Organization, early initiation of breastfeeding, within one hour of birth, protects the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality. The risk of mortality due to diarrhoea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.

© Freshlyground
As the lead vocalist for one of South Africa’s most successful bands, Zolani is using her high profile - and her voice - to support World Breastfeeding Week, announcing that she will exclusively breastfeed her first child.

But it’s not only babies who benefit from breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural, though not fail-safe, method of birth control (98 per cent protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, and it helps women return faster to their pre-pregnancy weight.

As a member of one of South Africa’s most successful bands, Zolani often finds herself travelling for days and sometimes weeks at a time. But, she says, where there is a will there is a way.

“We made this decision together,” says Zolani. “My husband and I are well aware of the challenges, and it’s for this reason that we equipped ourselves with knowledge regarding options for expressing.”

Close to mothers

The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is ‘Breastfeeding Support: Closer to Mothers’. Zolani can testify to the value of having a support structure firmly in place.

“My sister in law has two children that she breastfed, and it’s been very beneficial talking to her about it,” says Zolani. “One of the things that stood out for me from my conversations with her is the sense of closeness and intimacy it allows you to experience.”

Zolani’s partner supports her breastfeeding goals. “We both felt that having a baby meant that you have to arm yourself with knowledge,” she says. “As a parent, you are responsible for the health and well-being of your child. Why not ensure that you know all there is to know?”

An ideal advocate

Zolani’s approach to her baby’s health is a natural fit for an organization like UNICEF. “Child rights and welfare are two aspects that are right up my alley,” she says. “My mom was a teacher, and I find that I also have the desire to connect on a deeper level with children to better understand them.”

Zolani says she hopes that all mothers-to-be would feel the same way about the lives they are bringing into this world.

“I have an inherent need to take care of my baby,” she says. “And with this need comes the desire to respect this child. And what better way to do this than by investing in his or her health by breastfeeding?”



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