The 2013 World Breastfeeding week was on Tuesday launched to intensify advocacy on the need for Ghanaians to embrace the idea of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months to ensure their safety, growth and development.
The initiation of breast milk, which is said to be one of the most cost effective child survival strategies and the safest mode of feeding infants from birth, is recommended within the first 30 minutes of the child’s birth.
Studies have shown that the first breast milk known as the colostrum contains important antibodies that are able to protect the infant from infections and other diseases and, therefore, early initiation of breastfeeding was critical to prevent infant morbidity and mortality.
Ms Sherry Ayittey, Minister of Health in a speech read for her, said the celebration, which is on the theme: “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers,” highlights the importance of counselling and support for breastfeeding mothers so that they could practice optimal breastfeeding.
She called for family, institutional and community support for lactating mothers, particularly those in formal employment so that they could have sound minds and uninterrupted breastfeeding sections with their babies.
She said research had shown that exclusive breastfeeding could save both mother and child by delaying new pregnancy, reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in women and ensure the development of the intelligence quota in children.
It also helps in building a strong bond between infants and their mothers and endears children to their families and communities.
Ms Ayittey, however, said despite the immense benefits, Ghana had witnessed a sharp drop in her exclusive breastfeeding rate over the past few years and called for an active educative role by both the media and health care professionals to change the current trend.
According to the Minister, Ghana’s breastfeeding rate declined sharply from 63 per cent in 2008 to 43 per cent in 2011 when the last Ghana Health Service (GHS) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey was conducted.
The Minister said although research had shown that exclusive breastfeeding could reduce infant deaths by 23 per cent, societal pressures, subtle enticements from infant formula manufacturers and negative media reportage had thwarted efforts to enforce the practice since it was adopted in 1993.
The decline in breastfeeding continues to pose a huge challenge to achieving the optimal breastfeeding target and this could be blamed on continuous societal pressures on mothers and the use of artificial infant foods and the subtle but aggressive marketing strategies of the manufacturers.
According to Ghana’s Breastfeeding Promotion Regulation 2000, which was derived from the International Code on Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, infant formula manufacturers and distributors were not supposed to advertise their products in any form, yet most of these companies continued to violate the law.
She appealed to the public as well as the media to intensify their watch-dog role and report violators of the Code for appropriate sanctions by the Food and Drugs Authority.
She said the Ministry of Health and the GHS was committed to the promotion of optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices to reduce infant mortality in order to attain the Millennium Development Goals.
“We will, therefore, continue to spearhead breastfeeding promotion as we have been doing for the past 20 years with support from our development partners and NGOs,” she said.
Mr Ebenezer Appiah-Denkyira, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, urged corporate institutions to provide support for lactating working mothers by opening crèches close to their facilities to facilitate optimal breastfeeding practices for their staff who may need such services.
He said the GHS would take up the challenge of ensuring that all its facilities nationwide were equipped with such a facility by the end of the year to ensure peaceful, stress-free and optimal breastfeeding practices among its staff.
Rev. Dr Joyce Aryee, Executive Director, Salt and Light Ministries, who chaired the launch, said breast milk was the safest food for infants from birth to the sixth month, owing to its immense health benefits such as reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, brain damage and stunted growth.
She pledged to be an advocate to the campaign for exclusive breastfeeding and called for massive support from corporate organizations, healthcare providers, the media and other public institution in the provision of support for working mothers.
This could be in the form of crèches where the mothers could keep their babies and breastfeed them regularly to ensure sound mind and improved productivity.