Breastfeeding: giving a boost to babies’ best food

August 5, 2015 by Tracy Romoser

What food provides the most nutrients, natural immunities, and bonding opportunities? Here's what PATH is doing to support breastfeeding in South Africa.
Women hold their infants at a clinic.

Women hold their babies at a clinic as they learn about community-based infant feeding activities. Photos: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

“I learned not to feed the babies [solids] straight after giving birth to them.”

Even though she’d had four previous children, it was the first time this new mother had received postnatal support, and she was pleased to share what she had learned from the community health workers. “They teach us about expressing milk, breastfeeding, and the danger signs of the baby, and that you must exclusively breastfeed until 6 months.”

Breast milk is best poster.

Breastfeeding is the single most powerful intervention for reducing infant mortality and improving health. It provides infants with the most readily accessible source of nutrients, supports their developing immune systems, and promotes bonding opportunities with their mothers. Yet in communities where babies are at high risk of illness, many new mothers need help to establish and reinforce this essential and lifesaving practice.

During this World Breastfeeding Week, we’re highlighting our work that supports exclusive breastfeeding in South Africa and, in some cases, around the world. Our earlier Infant and Young Child Nutrition program helped revise South Africa’s national health and nutrition policies in support of exclusive breastfeeding. And now PATH continues this work through our Window of Opportunity and Human Milk Banking projects.

Breastfeeding and behavior change

As part of the Window of Opportunity project, we provide ongoing maternal and child health training and technical support for 20 community-based organizations. These organizations deliver core services during the postpartum period and early childhood by conducting home visits, facility education sessions, and community education sessions.

Two of the main objectives of the outreach interventions are to provide support for routine postnatal visits—including immediate initiation of breastfeeding—and to promote exclusive breastfeeding. Here’s what three of our community health workers have reported:

“[The] behavior change and communication strategy works. . . . behavior towards breastfeeding has changed for the better. The pregnant women visit the clinics on a regular basis, while new mothers breastfeed their children as opposed to before when they either mixed breastfeeding and baby formula from the shops or just feed their babies with shop milk only”
“Now even the fathers are involved and motivated about breastfeeding. They say that it is cheaper and they don’t have to buy milk from the shops…”
“Many more are breastfeeding and now we teach them how to express and breastfeed.”

Human milk banks: a global formula for success

A FoneAstra device.

A prototype of the FoneAstra device for monitoring the pasteurization temperature of breast milk using a smartphone. Photo: PATH/Steffanie Chritz.

A key component of PATH’s infant nutrition strategy, is to strengthen human milk banking globally to ensure that all infants who need human milk have access to it. PATH’s Mother-Baby Friendly Initiative Plus integrates human milk banking within breastfeeding promotion programming to reach the most babies and save the most lives.

As well as our work in India to support human milk banking scale-up, PATH is also partnering with the KwaZulu Natal Provincial Department of Health and the Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa to start five human milk banks at district hospitals in KZN Province. PATH is a global leader on this issue, working with experts around the world to scale up systems and technologies that simplify milk bank processes and make them more economical, efficient, and effective, such as the low-cost pasteurization temperature monitoring system, FoneAstra.

Training of the milk bank staff in South Africa will begin next week. This process is integrated into breastfeeding promotion and lactation support activities at the hospital level and in the community. A set of dramas is also being developed to promote messaging around breastfeeding support and donation of human milk to the milk banks that will be used in the community.

PATH’s work involves strategies, too

In support of World Breastfeeding Week, PATH jointly conducted a stakeholder meeting with KwaZulu Natal Provincial Department of Health and Save the Children to address the topic “How can we increase breastfeeding rates in South Africa? Innovations in Breastfeeding from KZN and Limpopo.” The objective of the meeting was to develop multisectoral options for improving breastfeeding rates in South Africa, including a focus on human milk banks, and to promote breastfeeding as one of the strategies to reach the Sustainable Development Goals on eradicating preventable neonatal deaths.

And as part of PATH’s dedication to saving newborn lives, we are proud to support The Call to Action for Human Milk Banks, an exciting initiative of the Breastfeeding Innovations Team which is advancing our work to strengthen human milk banking worldwide and ensure that all babies who need human milk have access to it. This team works in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement, the Every Newborn Action Plan, and the Global Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative.

More information

Global breastfeeding and human milk banking resources