HIV, myths cloud value of breastfeeding

THE majority of Zambian women support breastfeeding as critical for the growth of new-born babies and infants, but there is still some lingering doubts that all mothers must breastfeed their children regardless of their condition.

As Breastfeeding Week provided new perspectives on the subject and information on promotion of exclusive breastfeeding to infants, there appeared to be other factors influencing mothers’ decisions to breastfeed or not.

There was mixed reactions over the subject of exclusive breastfeeding aimed at promoting and improving child survival for the HIV-exposed babies.

Women talked to said some mothers were not breastfeeding their babies due to certain misconceptions and myths surrounding the subject as well as HIV-related issues.

Mwamba Nakazwe of Sikanze police camp said breastfeeding supplied all the necessary nutrients to the baby in proper proportions, resulting in them having healthier weights than unbreastfed babies.

She said breast milk also protected babies against infections like ear ailments and was easily digested, reducing constipation, diarrhea or upset stomachs for the baby.

Maggie Tembo, an expectant mother from State Lodge area, said breast milk was best for the baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extended well beyond basic nutrition.

She added that breast milk contained all the vitamins and nutrients for the baby, adding that in the first six months and above infants should be subjected to exclusive breastfeeding.

Kanyanta Ngoma, who is an ART patient, said it was unclear when a mother was supposed to wean off the child and under what circumstances.

Ms Ngoma said in the event that sores developed on the mother’s breasts this potentially altered her capacity to exclusively breastfeed the baby and weaning might be necessary.

“Sometimes I think that I may have a sore on my nipples which I may not be aware of. But the nurses said that there should not be any sores on the breast when breastfeeding.

‘‘So I get worried that the baby may get infected with HIV. I usually think about weaning my baby from breastfeeding, since the nurses said that at times there can be sores on the mother’s nipples,” she said.

She however said breastfeeding provided babies with important antibodies against disease and also exclusive breastfeeding, as opposed to mixed feeding for infants until age six months, was the best way to protect children from HIV.

And Health minister Joseph Kasonde said breastfeeding was best and unique, hence it should be supported by the general public.

Dr Kasonde disclosed that newly born babies and infants survived and thrived more when they were breastfed and that breastfeeding contributed towards the reduction of under-five child mortality.

He said that breastfeeding experience was satisfying and empowering to the mother because she was in control of how she fed her baby.

Dr Kasonde revealed that breastfeeding practices differed around the globe but that they needed to be protected and promoted among all mothers especially the poor and vulnerable mothers in rural areas.

“Mothers need to remember that the economic climate is undermining food security, yet the breast is there ready with milk anytime, anyplace, at the right temperature with all the right nutrients for the infant,’’ he said.

And Dr Kasonde said that every year Zambia joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week running from 1st to 7th August.

The World Health Organization says exclusive breastfeeding has the potential to reduce infant and under-five mortality, but research shows the practice is not widespread in resource-poor settings of sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia.