Life, Love and Breastfeeding: Educate and Support

Breastfeeding is a choice. Worldwide, women choose this because breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure your child's health, well-being, and survival.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in the first week of August to highlight the importance of breastfeeding. This is due to the crucial role that breastfeeding plays in the life of both newborn babies and mothers. Not only does breastfeeding prevent babies from infections and lower their risk of health issues later in life, but it helps the mother's uterus to contract after birth. Breastfeeding also helps lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in mothers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommend that infants be breastfed within an hour of birth. Breastfeeding is continued for at least six months after birth. It is suggested that babies be breastfed up to two years of age to support their developmental needs.

Dr Anna Msigwa, an Early Career Researcher at the University of Pretoria's Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship Program (FAR-LeaF), is a staunch supporter of breastfeeding and sees it as an integral part of the well-being of her family. Despite the demands of her lecturing and studies, she is currently breastfeeding her second child. Baby Makinde weighed a healthy 2.5kg when she was born in April. The exclusive use of breast milk increased her weight to a healthy 6.7kg.

Dr Msigwa also breastfed her firstborn son for a full two years. "He did not need any supplementary milk for the first six months. I started with other foods then, but since I firmly bought into the research that breastfeeding for up to two years helps with cognitive development, I set that as my goal. The fact that I could keep at it for even longer was a bonus, even if it meant it took longer for me to finish my PhD – his development and the bond I formed with my child were worth the time and effort. It helps that my husband also believes in the benefits of breastfeeding because it means having his full support."

It is not easy to manage her household, job and post-doctoral research while being tied to a breastfeeding infant, but Dr Msigwa is making it work for her family. "I am currently doing my research from home, and I do my lectures online.

Despite all the pros for infants and mothers, statistics show that only a third of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months has not increased in two decades.

Despite all the benefits for infants and mothers, statistics show that only a third of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months – a rate that has not improved in 2 decades. This may have to do with the increased number of working mothers unable to attend to the natural rhythms of breastfeeding while working full-time. "I know that not everyone's situation allows for breastfeeding for as long as I did. But really, my advice would be for everyone to stick it out at least for six months to help stabilise the baby's immune system," she advises. Another reason is that inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.

This year, World Breastfeeding Week (#WBW2022) focuses on strengthening role-players' capacity to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding across different levels of society. These actors comprise the "warm chain" of breastfeeding support, including governments, health systems, workplaces, and communities. #WBW2022 will inform, educate, and empower organisations to strengthen their capacity to provide and sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for families in the post-pandemic world.

Dr Msigwa is a hydrology and water resources engineering lecturer at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania. She is an expert at efficient water use for agriculture, incorporating seasonal land-use dynamics into water analysis models. Her unique approach is already used to study agricultural water use across Africa and the globe. For her FAR-LeaF work, she is developing a machine learning-based crop water stress mapping system.

Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.