Breastfeeding, initiated within an hour of birth, provides a baby with the best start in life. It significantly helps infants and children reach their full potential later in life, leading to better brain development, higher IQs and stronger immune systems. The benefits of breastfeeding extend to mothers too, lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and postnatal depression. Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth, and reducing inequalities, and therefore critical for the achievement of many Sustainable Development Goals.
However, despite strong, available evidence on the benefits of breastfeeding, today only 38 percent of infants globally are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life and an estimated 800,000 babies die each year because they didn’t have the chance to breastfeed, or breastfeed enough. Breastfeeding is the best choice for moms and babies, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. On the contrary, for many mothers around the world, and especially those who live in low income countries, it is often physically, emotionally and logistically complicated.
This week, GAIN joins the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week by emphasizing the importance of “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”. This year’s theme calls for joint action, as breastfeeding is not just a woman’s issue or the sole responsibility of a woman. It requires support from everyone: from parents to policymakers, health facilities, communities and employers – all have a role to play. GAIN is all about building alliances for the common good, and promoting breastfeeding is at the core of our programs to improve nutrition for women and children.
Here are three examples of how, through our work with partners, GAIN is supporting mothers to adopt and sustain optimal breastfeeding practices recommended by the World Health Organization (exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, combined with complementary feeding up to at least 2 years of age).
Mozambique – One Minute for Nutrition Campaign
In Mozambique, more than two out of five children under five suffer from chronic undernutrition, which is the result of a combination of factors, including micronutrient deficiencies, frequent infections or disease, poor care and feeding practices, and unsafe water and sanitation. It is estimated that around 45 percent of deaths among children under five in the country are linked to malnutrition.
Currently, only 41 percent of Mozambican infants under six months are exclusively breastfeed. Increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates can be the difference between life and death, as the antibodies in mothers’ milk protect infants from illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are some of the leading causes of child deaths.
For this reason GAIN, in partnership with the Ministry of Health of the Government of Mozambique (MISAU), has launched a social behaviour change communications campaign called “Um Minuto Nutrição” (One Minute for Nutrition). The purpose of this campaign is to influence mothers and caregivers to adopt breastfeeding, optimal complementary feeding and healthy eating practices for young children.
The first television advert produced for this campaign focuses on the nutrition of newborn babies and on the importance of colostrum, the first milk produced after the baby is born. The advert explains: “This particular milk is not dirty; if you are told not to give it, do not consent! This milk has a yellowish colour because it brings the mother’s protection against diseases to the newborn baby and is very important for the baby’s health. Colostrum also helps clean the baby’s body, helping him pass his early stools. Right after his birth, always breastfeed your baby to stimulate the exit of colostrum and the production of mature milk”.
Indonesia – Baduta project
In Indonesia, less than half of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed and are often given milk, formula, water or other liquids, or complementary foods too early. This interferes with breast milk production and exposes babies to infections. New mothers often lack confidence in their own breastfeeding capacity, which they cannot see nor measure. At the same time, they are unaware that formula topping up breastmilk does not supplement, but displaces breastfeeding.
It is against this backdrop that GAIN developed the Baduta project (Baduta meaning ‘child in Bahasa Indonesian), which prioritizes the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding as a key behavioural objective to improve infant feeding practices. This has been done through the behaviour change campaign called Rumpi Sehat (Health Gossip), which comprises of mass-media TV adverts, community activation designed to provoke an emotional response called “Emo-Demo’s” (emotional demonstrations), social media and inter-personal communication.
The Emo-Demos are 20-40 minute highly interactive, game-like sessions with mothers that aim to create surprise, grab attention, spark emotion and challenge social norms around breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding practices. The emo-demos are conducted by village volunteers (kaders) in East Java – where rates of child undernutrition are particularly high – at monthly Integrated Health Post sessions (known as ‘Posyandus’) and periodic Classes for Pregnant Women (‘Kelas Ibus’). The sessions use various props and simple, laminated discussion guides to ensure a consistent experience in order to engage and motivate mothers to participate and giving them the confidence to practice the right feeding behaviors.
GAIN’s team worked closely with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to develop the TV commercials and the Emo Demo’s.
Watch the video on the ‘Most Significant Changes’ triggered by the Rumpi Sehat campaign and find out how village volunteers are helping mothers adopt and sustain optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices
South Africa – Nutrimark project
More than 100,000 children die each year in South Africa from diseases associated with poor breastfeeding habits and insufficient vitamins and minerals in their daily diet, while one in five of children have stunted growth.
In 2010, GAIN and partners launched the Nutrimark project with the aim to reach low income consumers through public sector channels, ensure market-based delivery of nutritious and affordable complementary food supplements, and nutrition education messages. GAIN supported the development of the government’s national public ‘Feeding Smart from the Start’ campaign through the development of materials (including pamphlets, posters, and small “Z-Card” pocket brochures, distributed at government clinics), as well as utilizing social mobile media to spread awareness around feeding practices and change the nutrition behavior of consumers. In line with the government’s health agenda, the messaging has been centered on the first 1,000 days of life, focusing on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months followed by the introduction of complementary foods in addition to breastfeeding from six up to two years of age.
Until recently, South Africa had the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the world – at 8 percent. Comparison of findings from the 1998 and 2016 South African DHS surveys shows that there has been a nearly five-fold increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates: today a third of South African children under six months old are exclusively breastfed. This significant progress is attributable to the combined efforts of breastfeeding advocates, healthcare providers and government. However, breastfeeding rates remain low, especially compared to the rates of other countries in the region. GAIN will continue to support both the public and private sector in order to promote optimal breastfeeding practices and improve the nutritional status of South African children under two years old.
Follow #WBW2017 for the latest updates on World Breastfeeding Week
Published 3 August 2017