South Africa’s First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe has expressed concern about statistics revealing that only one-third of infants in the country under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed.
Motsepe made her remarks while addressing the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) International Council gala dinner in Cape Town.
The council is a global network of philanthropists with a commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children around the world. The council meets annually to interact with and learn from each other and guide its strategic objectives.
Motsepe commended Unicef for partnering with South Africa’s efforts of promoting breastfeeding.
“Global evidence proves that where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported, women are two-and- a-half times more likely to breastfeed.
“If South Africa is to reach the 2025 UN target, our challenge is to support mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months, and where possible continue until the child is two years old. We need to become a breastfeeding-friendly nation,” she said.
Unicef partners with the South African government through technical assistance to strengthen legislative frameworks, systems and programmes and ensure that children survive, thrive and develop from the start.
“One of the ways in which we witness how Unicef is making a difference in South Africa is through its support of a nationally targeted breastfeeding advocacy and media campaign,” said Motsepe.
“Breastfeeding plays a significant role in contributing to the optimal health and development of a child, providing each child with the best and healthiest start to life.”
UCT’s Paediatrics and Child Health Advocacy Committee said exclusive breastfeeding was a smart investment in children’s education as it was associated with higher IQ, academic performance and economic productivity.
“And it provides a foundation for healthy relationships by promoting early attachment and responsive care-giving, reducing stress and strengthening the bond between mother and child in the critical first 1 000 days of life.”
The committee said only one in four babies were exclusively breastfed by the time they were 4-5 months old, and this contributed to the high prevalence of malnutrition, diarrhoea, pneumonia and under-5 mortality in the country.