World Breastfeeding Week is held annually between the 1st – 7th August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
Over 120 countries across the world get involved in the celebration and this years’ focus falls on breastfeeding in relation to sustainability.
In recognition of national breastfeeding awareness month, here are some interesting facts about breastfeeding.
Newborn infants are born with a specific set of instinctual behaviours that lead to the initiation of breastfeeding. This is often referred to as ‘the breast crawl’. These instinctual behaviours can however only occur if the infant is in skin-to-skin contact with their mother. This instinctual behaviour is thought to be elicited by the infant’s exposure to the olfactory (smell), tactile (touch) and thermal cues that skin-to-skin contact provides during this sensitive period after birth. When placed in skin-to-skin contact on their mother’s trunk or chest directly after birth, an unmedicated infant is able to locate and move towards the breast. Their ability to locate the breast is based on their well-developed sense of smell. The mother’s nipples smell very alike to amniotic fluid. The infant recognises this smell on his hands and thus begins to move towards the similar smell of his mother’s nipples. Infants are also born with specific motor reflexes, such as the stepping reflex, which enables them to physically move towards the breast. Infants are then able to self-attach and start to breastfeed independently. This process usually takes between one and two hours after birth. Research has also found that infants that are allowed the time to initiate breastfeeding tend to breastfeed more effectively and for a longer duration than infants that are assisted to the breast and made to try and latch before they are ready.
An infant’s ability to perform the breast crawl and initiate early breastfeeding is not only amazing, it also has a far-reaching impact on global health.
It is estimated that 22% of newborn deaths could be avoided if every baby were breastfed within the first two hours after birth. Infants that receive breastmilk within these first few hours are three times more likely to survive than an infant breastfed a day later.
Furthermore, infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die of diarrhoea than those who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
Breastmilk protects infants from various diseases because of its immunological and anti-inflammatory properties. Research has also found that exclusive breastfeeding provides better protection against respiratory tract infections, sepsis in premature infants, otitis media, gastroenteritis, diarrhoeal disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity in childhood, sudden infant death syndrome and morbidity and mortality in general.
In the first hours and days of an infant’s life, the mother produces milk called colostrum. This is considered to be the most potent natural immune system booster known to science! Colostrum is thus referred to as liquid gold. It is so precious that in some countries it is sold for $4 per ounce. That is about 262 times the price of gold.
Oxytocin is referred to as the love hormone. This hormone has a positive influence on mothers and infants because of its powerful effect on behaviour and emotion. Oxytocin helps to decrease stress and anxiety as well as promotes positive moods states.
Oxytocin is released during skin-to-skin contact as well as during breastfeeding. In mothers, this powerful hormone promotes positive mood and facilitates maternal nurturing behaviours. This results in more frequent and positive mother-infant interaction which in turn supports bonding and attachment.
In addition, mothers directly pass Oxytocin to their infants via their breastmilk. Oxytocin decreases the stress response in infants as well as creates feelings of euphoria, drowsiness, pain relief and love.
Breastfeeding together with early skin-to-skin contact is considered a suitable and cost-effective means of reducing infant mortality and morbidity and supporting infant development. This is especially relevant within the South African context where infant and child mortality rates remain unacceptably high.
South Africa has one of the world’s lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates, estimated to be around 8% of infants that are exclusively breastfed for at least six months. In comparison, countries such as India, Peru, Bolvia, Kenya and Zambia have exclusive breastfeeding rates of between 60 and 80%. Internationally the recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months is supported by various medical and health organisations including The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the American Academy of Paediatrics.
South Africa has made commitments to support and promote breastfeeding rates in order to reduce child mortality and morbidity by means of the Tshwane Declaration of support for breastfeeding in South Africa (2011). Despite the commitments made in these guidelines, South Africa’s exclusive breastfeeding rates remain low. These low rates account for approximately 47 000 deaths of children under the age of five.
Bartick, M. & Reinhold, A., 2010. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: A pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics, 125(5), pp.e1048–e1056.
Bergman, J. & Bergman, N., 2013. Whose choice? Advocating birthing practices according to baby’s biological needs. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 22(1), pp.8–13.
Bergman, N.J., 2013a. Skin-to-skin contact is key to perinantal neuroscience. Available at: http://www.skintoskincontact.com/ssc-neuroscience.aspx.
Child Mortality Estimates, 2014. CME Info. CME Info, p.Home page. Available at: http://www.childmortality.org [Accessed October 26, 2016].
Henderson, A., 2011. Understanding the breast crawl implications for nursing practice. Nursing for Women’s Health, 15(4), pp.296–307.
Mason, F., Rawe, K. & Wright, S., 2013a. Superfood for babies: How overcoming barriers to breastfeeding will save children’s lives. , pp.1–75. Available at: https://www.google.co.za/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi_v8XWsfbOAhWFKMAKHTlpCS4QFghFMAQ&url=https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/Superfood_for_Babies_UK_version.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFvlNW-B0pN5Y4exno [Accessed April 15, 2016].
Moore, E. et al., 2012. Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 5(3), pp.1–108.
National Department of Health, 2011. The Tshwane declaration of support for breastfeeding in South Africa. The South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24(4), p.214.
Phillips, R., 2013. The sacred hour: Uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, 13(2), pp.67–72.
Pitonyak, J.S., 2014. Occupational therapy and breastfeeding promotion: Our role in societal health. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(3), pp.90–96.
United Nations Children’s Fund, 2012. UNICEF and WHO welcome South Africa’s efforts to protect and support breastfeeding. UNICEF, p.1. Available at: http://www.unicef.org/southafrica/media_10469.html [Accessed June 15, 2016].
Visser, M. et al., 2016. Breastfeeding among mothers in the public health sector: The role of the occupational therapist. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46(2), pp.65–72.
It is a pleasure to work with Tumelo. Since he started daycare and speech therapy as well as Occupational therapy, Tumelo made lovely progress. He localizes speech sounds better, he turns his head towards the sound source and even smiles. When he interacts with a toy he now allows me to interact with him. He copies sounds like “brmmmm” when we pretend play with a car. Tumelo comes and sits close to me, makes better eye contact and gives hugs. He responds to verbal commands and loves to climb on the jungle gym. Wow Tumelo, I am so proud of you! You made lovely progress.
The Baby Therapy Centre consists of Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech-language therapists who work within a transdisciplinary- or interdisciplinary treatment approach.find out more
The day care facility provides a means for regular therapy for children of working parents.find out more
Therapists regularly visit our outreach site in Mamelodi West.find out more
We aim to answer all the questions you might have about our services and what we offer.find out more