Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been promoting breastfeeding practices to improve overall health in the U.S. In South Africa, mothers often breastfeed simply out of necessity to ensure that their babies are receiving nourishment that they cannot otherwise provide. While breastfeeding may be a universal practice, the ways moms wean their children can be quite different.
Breastfeeding in South Africa
Many mothers in South Africa have no choice but to breastfeed their babies. They keep their baby with them at all times and breastfeed on demand. Organizations, such as UNICEF, work in South Africa to teach mothers how important breastfeeding can be for their children. According to UNICEF, breastfeeding reduces the mortality rate of children under age 5, but only 25.7 percent of infants in South Africa aged 0 to 6 months are breastfed exclusively. UNICEF also states that breastfeeding plays an important role in the prevention of stunted growth, as well as proper development.
Baby Care in South Africa
In South Africa, babies are usually not taken out of the home before 6 weeks of age and when they are taken outside, they are traditionally wrapped in multiple layers of blankets, no matter how warm it is outside. Most Africans think babies need to be kept warm since they were warm inside the mother's womb. Breastfeeding is made easier for many mothers because babies are usually attached to the mother and worn in a type of sling that enables babies to nurse whenever they like. This can also prevent the baby from crying, which is uncommon in South Africa because mothers generally respond to cries immediately by nursing. Babies in South Africa also sleep right next to their mothers to make the breast accessible during the night.
HIV and AIDS in South African Moms
HIV and AIDS have long been a problem in South Africa. Even if a mother has AIDS or the HIV virus, she is expected and encouraged to nurse her baby. According to a 2012 article from Voice of America, the health minister in South Africa announced that the government would no longer provide HIV-infected mothers with the six-month supply of baby formula that was previously offered. Women were instead told to exclusively breastfeed for those first six months. While there is a risk of passing HIV through breast milk, it is believed that the risk is lower than the risk of an infant getting sick or dying from other illnesses or malnutrition.
South African Weaning Traditions
When it comes to weaning children in South Africa, the age can vary greatly. Some mothers wean as early as six months, while others go on to nurse up to five years. Weaning traditions vary as well. Some mothers coat their breasts with bitter herbs or something spicy to cause their older children not to want to nurse anymore. Premastication is another traditional weaning practice in South Africa. This is where a mother pre-chews soft foods and then places it into her child's mouth. While it can provide a young child with nutrients he might not otherwise be able to get without breast milk, there are risks associated with this practice. It has been linked to the transmission of harmful viruses and bacteria, according to experts with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Voice of America: Breast Best Policy Challenged in South Africa
- Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: Premasticating Food for Weaning African Infants: A Possible Vehicle for Transmission of HIV
- UNICEF: UNICEF Celebrates Global Breastfeeding Week by Taking the Message Beyond Health Clinics
- Popline by K4Health: Potential Use of Traditional Fermented Foods for Weaning in Zimbabwe
- Popline by K4Health: Differential Effects of Early Weaning for HIV-Free Survival of Children Born to HIV-Infected Mothers by Severity of Maternal Disease
- Popline by K4Health: Operational Effectiveness of Guidelines on Complete Breast-feeding Cessation to Reduce Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV: Results From a Prospective Observational Cohort Study at Routine Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission Sites, South Africa
- International Development Research Centre: Improving Young Child Feedings in Eastern and Southern Africa
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breastfeeding
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