Panelists at a media engagement and public forum on breastfeeding, have called for family, community and institutional support for new mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months.
They said despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of six months exclusive breastfeeding of babies which Ghana was aligned with, issues including myths and misconceptions often arising from socio-cultural influences, the influx of foreign baby foods, and lack of knowledge and support for mothers, posed challenges to maintaining gains.
The panelists acknowledged that breastfeeding provided unmatched health benefits for babies and their mothers, as it was the gold standard for holistic infant growth, prevent cancers and other post-partum complications in women, hence the need to support all new mothers to sustain the practice for full benefits.
The panelists were Professor Richmond Aryettey, an Associate Professor at the University of Ghana School of Public Health, Dr Gyikua Plange-Rhule, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Child Health, School of Medical Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Dr Isabella Sagoe-Moses, the Deputy Director, Reproductive and Child Health, Ghana Health Service (GHS), and Ms Esi Foriwaa Amoaful, a Public Health and Nutrition Specialist.
The programme, organised by the Family Health Division of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) in Accra, to celebrate the Breastfeeding Month on the theme: “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support,” brought together participants from the health sector, development partners, civil society, academia, media, and religious bodies.
The discussions focused on the need to engage all actors, including the Media, to heighten advocacy for improvement in infant nutrition for their proper growth.
Dr Plange-Rhule said the first 1,000 days of life, “that is from pregnancy until two years of age,” were important periods for mother and baby, and their protection and support with appropriate information, education and encouragement, would reduce all forms of malnutrition.
Breastmilk contained antibodies which acted as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses including COVID-19, and it was a life-saver for most pre-term born, therefore initiation of breastfeeding within the first one hour of birth, was recommended by the WHO to improve newborn survival rate and maternal morbidities due to post-partum depression, she added.
Ms Amoaful dispelled the notion that breastmilk alone was not enough to satisfy the babies hunger before they turned six months, explaining that the volume of the natural milk rather increased with the frequency and duration of suckle by the baby, to fill their small and less developed tummy, hence supplementary foods were not required at that stage.
New mothers often lacked knowledge on picking the cues to fully feed their babies, home and their workplaces support, and these contributed to their choices of alternative feeding for their babies, so adequate knowledge and assistance could bring great change, she said.
Ms Amoaful spoke about the gains made through the Baby Friendly Initiative in key health facilities nationwide since the early 1990s, and sustaining these required renewed education and re-orientation of service providers, keen interest of men, and support for breastfeeding mothers, considering the huge health benefits to be derived.
She encouraged facility management to strictly enforce the WHO Breastfeeding Code by prohibiting the sale and promotion of infant formula around their premises, or accepting any form of sponsorships from such companies, to avoid their influences to lower the confidence of new mothers to exclusively breastfeed their infant into survival.
Dr Sagoe-Moses said providing proper education for the members of professional associations including the Ghana Journalist Association and health professions, could enhance their watch dog roles on violation against the International Breastfeeding Code.
Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General, Ghana Health Service, said currently only about half of Ghanaian children were being initiated within the first hour, and 43 per cent of infants were exclusively breastfed, but this could change for good with collaborative stakeholder efforts.
“New mothers need access to trained individuals with established relationships in the health care community who are flexible enough to meet mothers’ needs outside of traditional work hours and locations, and to provide consistent information,” he said.
Dr Francis Kasolo, the WHO Country Representative, in a speech read for him, said although exclusive breastfeeding rates had increased by 50 per cent globally over the past 40 years, only 44 per cent of babies were solely breastfed, leading to under-nutrition which accounted for 45 per cent of childhood deaths.
Dr Kofi Issah, the Director, Family Health Division, GHS, said ongoing activities at service delivery points nationwide included floats, durbars, radio and television discussions, engagements with mothers and community members.
So uplifting to hear how proactively and wisely with full nutritional information about the huge, life and death reasons to support mothers to breast feed their babies only breast milk for 6 months at least. I would love to see a program like this happening in the USA where eating well for health is not supported in any way in my opinion. And to add significant confusion, may foods are touted as being healthy, that are not healthy at all. I have worked as a “breast feeding buddy” with our local health department years ago. I wonder if this program or something like it is still in effect. I feel now that I have more wisdom and knowledge to speak to women now about the enormous value and importance that comes from breastfeeding. Especially if the mother’s diet is clean and nutritious. Thank you so much. I will check in with our health department and find out what is happening there around breastfeeding.