Breastfeeding moms, have you experienced discrimination – anything from a dirty look to an insensitive and unkind comment?

It’s amazing how much flak breastfeeding moms get.

It doesn’t matter to some people that breastfeeding is actually the purpose of breasts, or that it’s natural and has amazing benefits for child and mother.

Sadly, many people have come to view breastfeeding as somehow offensive.

Why does breastfeeding upset some people?

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‘Sexy’ boobs are hot, breastfeeding boobs are not

Our society is quite okay with boobs – no one seems to even blink when boobs used to advertise anything from cars to strip clubs, but let a mother try to feed her baby and many people get all flustered about it.

It’s ironic that breastfeeding is seen as distasteful when it’s popular to have breast implants so large that they create the look of breasts engorged with milk.

Related: Rachel Kolisi hits back at public breastfeeding shamers

Breastfeeding is a ‘foundation of life’

This is one of the emphases for World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August), coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).

According to the WABA, breastfeeding can help combat the impacts of inequality, crises and poverty – all major issues across South Africa. Yet, we remain one of the countries with the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.

In fact, breastfeeding is so important that the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding until the age of two years and beyond, while complementary foods are introduced.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding until the age of two years and beyond…

Breastfeeding and breaking the cycle of poverty

“Breastmilk and breastfeeding are referred to as ‘the economic choice’ because mothers produce custom-made breastmilk for their children at no additional expense to their households,” says Stellenbosch University Associate Professor Lisanne du Plessis, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson.

She points out that the high costs of not breastfeeding include the impacts on nutrition, health care and the environment. It is essential that the barriers to mothers providing their children with the most natural, nutritious and health-boosting free option need to be overcome.

“On average, 20 kilogrammes of formula is needed to feed a baby for the first six months of life. At an average price of R190 per kilogramme, the formula bill adds up to almost R4000. Add to this, the cost of bottles and teats as well as fuel to boil water and clean utensils, and families face a staggering expense of thousands of Rands to feed their babies.”

It’s better for the environment

According to the widely cited Lancet Breastfeeding series, breastmilk is ‘a natural, renewable food that is environmentally safe’.  It is produced and delivered without fuel inputs, pollution, packaging or waste.

In contrast, breastmilk substitutes have a substantial ecological footprint, which includes agricultural production, manufacturing, packaging and transport just to get to the consumer.

“It is clear that from the household to the country level, breastfeeding can significantly reduce costs and contribute to breaking the poverty cycle,” says du Plessis.

It’s ironic that breastfeeding is seen as distasteful when it’s popular to have breast implants so large that they create the look of breasts engorged with milk.

Breastfeeding helps reduce healthcare costs

A nation of breastfeeding mothers can also reduce the burden of their country’s healthcare costs.

Registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Chantell Witten, who is also a researcher at North-West University says, “It is well-proven that breastfeeding reduces disease risk. Breastfeeding substantially protects infants against death, diarrhoea, chest and ear infections.  Breastfeeding also helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms.  It protects against overweight, obesity, diabetes as well as the various health consequences of under-nutrition. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and of high blood pressure.”

Witten points out that babies who are not exclusively breastfed; who are given food earlier than age six months and who are not following a varied diet, are at higher risk of malnutrition and death.

Globally, if higher rates of optimal breastfeeding were practised, 823 000 annual deaths in children under the age of five years and 20 000 deaths from breast cancer could be averted.

University of the Western Cape lecturer, registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Catherine Pereira points out that breastfeeding provides complete food security for babies up to six months of age.

“Furthermore, from six to 24 months, breastmilk still provides a substantial contribution to a child’s nutrient and energy needs. Breastmilk is accessible, sufficient, safe and nutritious and it is therefore quite clear that breastfeeding can contribute directly to ensuring food security during emergencies.

For information on World Breastfeeding Week 2018, visit www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org

Related: Benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby