Breastfeeding is one of the most elemental and traditional human activities, but as the developing world’s drive for urbanization takes many young mothers away from the nurturing care and traditions of their own families, experts fear the rates of breastfeeding may decline. As World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in 170 nations, experts say many women in developing societies are isolated after moving away from their families and lack the support they might get in their home environment, and Project HOPE, a global health education and humanitarian assistance organization, is seeking to tout the benefits of breastfeeding in some of the world’s most impoverished and fast-changing societies.
“New mothers in the developing world do have one large and consistent advantage on their side when it comes to breastfeeding - it is a strongly traditional practice and their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and numerous other women in their families will have successfully breast fed babies and are therefore able to supply useful advice and much needed social support,” said Judith Moore, Technical Advisor for Women’s and Children’s Health at Project HOPE.
“But an increasing number of women are moving to urban areas to seek employment and the lack of a family structure where close family members can assist with household chores and childcare pose great challenges for these women who often find significant obstacles to be overcome in order to breastfeed successfully or express breast milk at work.”
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2011 is communication – an “essential part of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding,” according to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), which created this annual event in 1992.
One of the challenges in the developing world, says Ms. Moore, is being able to communicate and educate working women and their employers in factories and other businesses about the health of women in the workplace, especially mothers, and to negotiate conditions where they can get breaks to breastfeed their babies.
“With more and more women in developing countries engaged in full-time employment, there is a great need to ensure that their health needs are being met and to educate and enable women to understand the importance and advantages of breastfeeding, and more importantly, to be able to breastfeed successfully. Project HOPE's maternal and children’s health projects provide relevant and up to date information on breast feeding and try to support women to fully breast feed their babies,” said Ms. Moore.
In the Dominican Republic, Project HOPE’s “5 Star Strategy” is recognized by the Pan American Health Organization as a global model to ensure and incentivize the delivery of basic services to pregnant women and to children up to five years of age. The programs includes pre- and post-natal care that involves a follow up visit with each new mother and child within seven days of delivery and promotes exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months. Continued breastfeeding is encouraged to compliment feedings until the child’s second birthday.
In Africa, Project HOPE’s programs attempts to dispel false myths about HIV-infected mothers transmitting the disease to their babies through breastfeeding. In Namibia, Project HOPE health workers encourage HIV positive mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months while frequently checking that the baby‘s mouth has no cuts, sores or thrush, and that the mother’s breasts have no sores, cuts, or bleeding nipples. Women are not encouraged to give their baby any other liquid or food during this time. After six months, babies are weaned rapidly, as this is the safest way to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus via break milk and is scientifically proven and then babies are given the appropriate weaning foods and drinks.
As for alternatives to breastfeeding, Ms. Moore says health care workers in the developing world are being offered incentives by companies that manufacture baby formula and are eager to promote breast milk substitutes and formula feeding, especially to women working in urban areas.
“There is an international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes and many countries have signed up to this but few are able to actually sufficiently control the activities of the companies who have huge funds at their disposal,” Ms. Moore said.
She said most women can and should breastfeed for as long as possible.
“Nearly all women are able to breastfeed successfully, and in cases where the baby has difficulty sucking - such as with a very premature baby, the mother is still able to express her milk and give this by bottle or spoon and cup. Even with premature infants, the milk that the mother produces is perfectly suited to the infant’s age and is far superior to any formula,” said Ms. Moore.
“A wonderfully simple method that really works well when the baby is physically stable, is the skin to skin method, where the mother puts the baby in a sling right next to her skin with her clothing on top. The baby can smell the milk and is able to suckle frequently and is kept warm. The positive growth and development of babies nursed like this is scientifically proven.”
Ms. Moore says studies have shown that breastfed babies have three to six points higher IQ and the number of women who genuinely are unable to breastfeed is a tiny percentage.
World Breastfeeding Week takes place annually during the first week of August and focuses on the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide. To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and how you can support and encourage mothers who want to breastfeed, go to http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/.
Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health problems with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now provides medical training and health education, and conducts humanitarian assistance programs in more than 36 countries.
Geraldine Carroll firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. +1.540.257.3746
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