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Breastfeeding: A mother’s best gift to her child

Breastfeeding: A mother’s best gift to her child

With the theme of - “Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet” – this year the Ethiopian Midwives Association marked the occasion inside its headquarters in the Lamberet neighborhood with hundreds of people in attendance. This is the 12th year it has been observed within the nation.

This comes as noted world organizations such as the World Health Organization and others advocate for governments and institutions to help promote the ideas of skilled breastfeeding among the population.

“Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers. And it forms part of a sustainable food system”, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom (PhD) and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said in a statement earlier this year.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association has been one of the few advocates of breastfeeding in Ethiopia. Started in 1992, it has promoted breastfeeding by offering counselling, training healthcare workers such as midwives and extension healthcare workers and offering nutrition within vulnerable communities.

For Almaz Tadesse, 26, the association has been useful in helping her embrace breastfeeding and get practical and basic information in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has produced much conflicting information on it.

“When I was about to give birth in the midst of COVID-19 and shortly after, there were lots of rumors whether I should breastfeed or limit my contact with my son. But it was a neighbor who suggested to me to come to the Midwives Association and speak to experienced staff members and get experienced information,” she told The Reporter.

“I found them to be knowledgeable and learned much about how much breastfeeding is important to a child at the early stages of his life,” she added.

This comes as many are beginning to accept cow milk and powdered milk as substitute to natural breastfeeding in Ethiopia and around the world

Marta Gezachew waited until her daughter was almost two before she realized the value of breastfeeding. As a professional civil engineer with a demanding schedule in the construction sector, as soon as her child was born, she started work within two days and she thought little about the value of breastfeeding.

She felt there were other options. Her daughter was left with childcare for much of her formative childhood growing up and she was mostly provided with cow milk instead of the natural mother-to-child milk she now thinks she should have offered her.

“What I regretted most was, I did not take my time to breastfeed her in the first 6 months as recommended by healthcare practitioners. I did not have that basic information that others are beginning to have. I was busy pursuing a profession that was demanding and I placed financial freedom in front of the needs of my child. I have come to regret that,” she said.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association, like many experts involved in the sector, advise and recommend breastfeeding in the first year of a child’s life as opposed to formulas often used by much of the population, a growing phenomenon among busy mothers.

The Ethiopian government, through its proactive Health Ministry has been advocating and helping promote better health across the nation.

“Breastfeeding is an important component of what we do at the ministry. We value the practice and we partner with liked minded organizations such as Midwives Association, UNICEF and EMWA to help promote its value, offer practical information to the mother and the community in order to promote and build a healthy and happy child population”, Meseret Zelalem (MD), the Director of Maternal, Child Health Nutrition Directorate within the Ministry of Health told The Reporter.

To her, the investment made on young children is the human capital of the future.

“Breastfeeding is all tailored to prevent and reduce stunting, wasting and acute malnutrition”, she added.

For the local midwives association, that is the heart of its mission and why it was founded and is still valued by many.

 “There are obvious reasons why breastfeeding is important to a new born or a child,” Zenebe Akale, the President of the association told The Reporter. “However, it’s no way an alternative to other nutrition needs he or she may have but an added value.”

According to the International Breastfeeding Journal, only 59 percent of Ethiopian mothers breastfeed their children within the first few months of birth, which according to the finding is “significantly lower than the global recommendations”.

The report also found out how “mothers who attended antenatal visits and who gave birth at health institutions had better EBF (exclusive breastfeeding) practices”.

Yet another mother gathered at the occasion inside the association explained the value of its services.

“Extension health workers who are well-trained with an ear on the ground are important to the community. They provide most up to date information that is life to death for many. If it was not for the association, I would have used cow milk for all my children and I would not have been burdened with breastfeeding them. But the fact I have a growing, happy and healthy children is significantly linked to breastfeeding and I received the information from the association,” Mantegbosh Akalewold explained.

There are growing entities beginning to advocate and promote breastfeeding, among them, the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among the benefits explained are, decreased postpartum bleeding and more rapid uterine, decreased menstrual blood loss and increased child spacing, pre-pregnancy weight gain, and decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

That is the message UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund) has been taking across Ethiopia. This year, it partnered with WFP (World Food Programme) in a three year project to help educate vulnerable people on the value of nutrition and better health across Ethiopia.

In 2018, UNICEF highlighted how, “Breastfeeding all babies for the first two years would save lives of more than 820,000 children under the age of five annually”.

This year, it found, more than four million Ethiopians are set to require treatment for malnutrition – among them those pregnant and breastfeeding women.

With limited resources and high ambition, the Ethiopian Midwives Association is determined to change that narrative by helping educate the value of breastfeeding one mother at a time.

For Zenebe, there is more to breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding helps the child develop an immune system to fight various viruses and also helps them transition into a healthy child,” he said, confident that the message is becoming more noted and accepted more than ever.