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With a national target of 60%, indications are that there is still much work to be done in promoting exclusive breastfeeding and its benefits for overall child health. The City is placing breastfeeding in the spotlight, in line with World Breastfeeding Week in August.

The City of Cape Town’s Health Department will undertake a survey in conjunction with the Metro District Health Service in the coming months to gain a better understanding of mothers’ views and attitudes towards exclusive breastfeeding.

The survey will be an expansion of a pilot project conducted at clinics in two City Health sub-districts, which found that only 40% of mothers surveyed were exclusively breastfeeding and just over half knew what exactly it means to breastfeed exclusively.

Research has shown that breast milk acts as a natural vaccine against infections, allergies and diarrhoea, among others. Breastfeeding Week is celebrated worldwide during the first week of August to raise awareness about the global drive to increase the number of children who are exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life is critical and should continue in conjunction with solid foods up to the age of two.‘Unfortunately, the easy availability of formula feeds has made breastfeeding less attractive to moms – in some instances drawing negative attention, not just in South Africa. Celebrating Breastfeeding Week is therefore crucial in our drive to explain to mothers why breastfeeding is best, as well as ensure that they are able to do it in relative comfort at home or in the workplace. Changing societal attitudes is necessary to create an enabling environment for breastfeeding mothers. This is in line with the First 1 000 Days strategy that the City has embarked on which focuses on promoting child health and brain development. The premise of the strategy is that looking after a child starts from conception and that the period up until the child turns two is crucial to their development later in life,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.

City Health supports the global drive advocating the importance of breastfeeding, through its Breastfeeding Restoration Plan which targets staff, mothers and secondary caregivers. Last year, the Department recruited infant feeding counsellors through the Expanded Public Works Programme and deployed them to City clinics. This was a success and it is envisaged that the initiative will be repeated this financial year. These initiatives are in line with the City’s Organisational Development and Transformation Plan which seeks to take City services directly to communities.

In addition, City Health has already implemented the National Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission Policy where mothers are encouraged to book before 14 weeks and, if HIV positive, go on antiretroviral treatment to make breastfeeding safe.

‘All sectors of society need to play their part in creating and sustaining an environment that is conducive to breastfeeding. Facilities need to be created in the workplace where women can safely express milk or breastfeed their children without the stigma,’ added Alderman Smith.

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