One third of babies in South Sudan are not exclusively breastfed

More actions are needed to further promote breastfeeding, said UNICEF at the start of the World Breastfeeding Week

31 July 2020
Suraya Hatam is breastfeeding her son Husni
UNICEF South Sudan/Samie-Jacobs
Suraya Hatam is the mother of three children. She did not exclusively breastfeed her first two children, but did so with her third, Husni, who is now a year old. Suraya says she can see a big difference in Husni’s health, as the toddler does not often get sick. Suraya says she was given a UNICEF pamphlet on baby nutrition, and that convinced her that breastmilk is best for her baby.

Juba South Sudan, 31 July 2020 – While over 90 per cent of babies in South Sudan benefit from breastfeeding, nearly one third of them under six months old are not exclusively breastfed, the globally recommended period for exclusive breastfeeding, said UNICEF at the beginning of the World Breastfeeding Week which runs from 1 to 7 August 2020.

Breastfeeding has proven to be the best nutrition for babies. Breastfed children have at least a six times greater chance of survival in their early months. Breast milk provides all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that an infant needs for its growth for the first six months. No other liquids, even water, or foods are required. Breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes later in life.

Today in South Sudan, over 92 per cent of mothers breastfeed, up from 73 per cent in 2010, making South Sudan an example to many countries in the world. A lot of advocacy effort has been put in place especially on counselling on appropriate Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) such as early initiation of breastmilk within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, introduction of energy and nutrient dense complementary feeding at six months with continuation of breastfeeding for two years or beyond. However, breastfeeding practices in South Sudan are still far from optimal and further progress is needed. Exclusive breastfeeding, a quality indicator for an optimal growth and development, has increased from 45 per cent in 2010 to only 69 per cent in 2020. Therefore, three in ten children do not receive the best food in the first six months of their life.

“As the data show, more needs to be done, especially to ensure that exclusive breastfeeding is practiced,” said Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “UNICEF is urging everyone in South Sudan to assist mothers in ensuring that the practice of exclusive breastfeeding is continued until the globally recommended age of six months.”

Mothers can be given practical assistance to ensure they can breastfeed exclusively, such as making sure new mothers have time, private space, and food set aside for them to be able to breastfeed comfortably. Space between children being born should be allowed so that the mother can devote herself to one baby.

"It is vital that we listen to mothers about why they do not practice exclusive breastfeeding. Simple actions, like doing housework, so that a new mother has time to breastfeed, can be done by any member of the household and can give a new generation the best health foundation there is," said Dr Ayoya.

Age inappropriate feeding throughout the first six months of life is one of the most serious obstacles to maintaining healthy body development. It contributes to the high levels of malnutrition in South Sudan.
While some may suggest that adding complementary foods to a baby's diet before 6 months is helping, research have confirmed again and again that exclusive breastfeeding is the best for providing a solid foundation for a child's health from birth up to six months. No manufactured food can replace the nutritious value of breast milk. However, introduction of age appropriate complementary feeding at six months of age along with breastmilk ensure to meet the nutrient needs of a growing child.

To further promote breastfeeding and support optimal infant and young child feeding and cognitive development, the Ministry of Health of South Sudan and UNICEF developed a strategy and guidelines. Together, the Government of South Sudan, UNICEF and partners have already reached over a million pregnant and lactating women in South Sudan with maternal, infant and young child feeding counselling.

Yet despite the work of thousands of professionals and volunteers, in 2020 over 1.3 million children under five in South Sudan will suffer from acute malnutrition. These high numbers of child malnutrition can be substantially reduced from the beginning of a child's life, through exclusive breastfeeding for six months and introduction of energy and nutrient dense complementary feeding thereafter.

“It is the responsibility of us all to support new mothers with simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways to exclusively breastfeed their newborns so that they survive and thrive,” stressed Dr Ayoya.
 

Media Contacts

Richard Ruati
Communication Officer
UNICEF South Sudan
Tel: +211 92 088 5211

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work in South Sudan visit: www.unicef.org/southsudan

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