Breastfeeding is best

It started as a commemoration of the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government’s policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is the best way to provide babies with all the nutrients that they need to grow and develop.

WHO recommendations are:

  • Start within one hour after birth.
  • Continue exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is 6 months old.
  • Start feeding nutritious complementary foods from 6months while continuing breastfeeding up to 2years and beyond.
  • This year WHO is encouraging people to “Support mums to breastfeed anytime, anywhere”.

It is common sense that breastfeeding is best, yet South Africa has a very low rate (8%) of exclusively breastfed babies at 6months compared to the almost 40% global rate, which puts us at one of the lowest worldwide. (

Over the past years, South Africa has taken steps to rectify the provision of inaccurate information by health care providers and implemented measures to mitigate the aggressive corporate marketing of breast milk substitutes which undermine breastfeeding. In addition, the country’s employment laws have enshrined the rights of mothers with infants under six months, who have had to return to work, to take two 30-minute breaks during work hours to express milk. (
Everyday barriers that breastfeeding women experience range from partners who are unsupportive due to self-interest to grandparents who morally disapprove of public breastfeeding. Corporate environments may not provide suitable facilities, nor accept the routines for lactating mothers who are back at work.

Ways in which we can improve this are:

  • Fathers and partners who are informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and supportive of a breastfeeding mother can have a major influence on successful outcomes
  • Other family members, particularly grandmothers and aunts, who a mother might turn to for advice and support also have a considerable influence to bear when it comes to encouraging or discouraging breastfeeding
  • Employers can support breastfeeding mothers who have returned to work to establish a routine to express milk in private and comfortable surrounds
  • Mothers also often rely on advice and support from their friends, especially those who might be more practiced mothers than they are. While there is much value in friends’ sharing their experiences of motherhood, the breastfeeding advice you give should be objective. Mothers who are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding should be encouraged to get professional help before considering giving it up.

Breastfeeding support available:

  • Mothers can obtain professional help with breastfeeding from lactation consultants, who are health professionals with advanced training in breastfeeding support
  • La Leche League South Africa is a voluntary organisation which provides information and support to women who want to breastfeed their babies. La Leche League Leaders are experienced breastfeeding mothers, trained and accredited by LLL, who are happy to help other mothers with questions and concerns about breastfeeding
  • Milk Matters is a community-based breast milk bank that pasteurises and distributes donations of screened breast milk from healthy donors to premature, ill and vulnerable babies whose own mothers cannot supply the breast milk to meet their baby’s needs. Their website has valuable information for breastfeeding mothers
  • Milk Moms is a local breastfeeding support group who can be contacted for support. Find us on facebook:

Breastfeeding provides the foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing. This year, the World Breastfeeding Week theme is‘Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development’. The website is packed with useful and interesting information on wide range of positive impacts of breastfeeding on society and the planet

Anke van Waveren, Registered dietitian

Latest News