Nurturing Health: The Vital Role of Breastfeeding for Children in Tanzania

Credit & Copyright: © WFP/Theresa Piorr

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Breastfeeding is one of the most important things a mother can do for her child’s health. It provides essential nutrients, protects against diseases, and promotes healthy development. In Tanzania, only about 55% of children under six months are exclusively breastfed, which is well below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 80%.

One of the interviews conducted by the National Institute of Health shows a total of 100 mothers interviewed (29.2%) reported having breastfed their infants exclusively for up to six months. Only 6% of children aged 24 months were solely breastfed for at least 23 months. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding decreased dramatically from birth to about nine months.

Breastfeeding for Babies’ Health and Development

  • Nutrition: Breast milk is ideally suited to a baby’s nutritional needs. It contains all the essential nutrients babies need to grow and develop, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Breast milk is also easier to digest than formula, which can help prevent digestive problems such as constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Immunity: Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect babies from infections. This is particularly important in the early months of life when babies’ immune systems are still developing. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of babies developing several infections, including respiratory infections, ear infections, and diarrhoea.
  • Development: Breastfeeding has been shown to promote healthy development in babies. It can help improve cognitive function, language development, and social-emotional skills. Breastfeeding can also help reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Benefits to Mothers

Breastfeeding is a natural and healthy way to feed a baby. It has several benefits for both mothers and babies in the short and long term. Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to experience postpartum haemorrhage, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and postpartum depression.

They are also more likely to lose weight quickly and feel more confident and self-assured. Breastfeeding can also help to create a strong bond between mother and baby.

In addition to these physical benefits, breastfeeding can have several emotional and psychological gifts for mothers. Breastfeeding can help mothers feel more confident and self-assured and can be a source of joy and satisfaction.

Challenges that Mothers in Tanzania Face in Breastfeeding Their Babies

  • Lack of Education and Awareness: One of the significant obstacles that Tanzanian mothers encounter is the lack of accurate information and awareness about the benefits. Misconceptions, coupled with limited access to proper healthcare and reliable sources of information, can lead to misguided decisions regarding infant nutrition.

Initiatives to educate mothers and communities about the significance of breastfeeding and dispelling myths are essential to empower mothers to make informed choices.

  • Socio-Cultural Norms and Misconceptions: Tanzania’s rich cultural tapestry often intertwines with breastfeeding practices, shaping mothers’ perspectives on this crucial aspect of child-rearing. Misconceptions about colostrum, the first milk produced after childbirth, are prevalent. Due to its thicker consistency and yellow colour, many mothers mistakenly believe it is harmful and discard it. This cultural misunderstanding deprives infants of vital antibodies and nutrients, setting them on a potentially compromised health trajectory.
  • Poverty: Many families in Tanzania cannot afford formula, so they rely on breastfeeding. However, deprivation can also make it difficult for mothers to take time off from work to breastfeed or to get the support they need to breastfeed successfully.
  • Economic Pressures and Maternal Employment: Tanzanian mothers face several challenges when balancing work and family life. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of paid maternity leave. In Tanzania, only about 10% of women have access to paid maternity leave, which means that most mothers have to return to work shortly after giving birth.

This can make it difficult for mothers to breastfeed their babies as they may not have enough time to pump milk or take breaks to breastfeed during the workday.

What Can Be Done to Increase Breastfeeding Rates?

Several things can be done to increase breastfeeding rates in Tanzania. One crucial step is to provide more support to mothers. This includes providing access to lactation consultants, breastfeeding education, and peer support groups. It is also essential to educate the public about the benefits of it. This can be done through mass media campaigns, school programs, and community outreach efforts.

Finally, it is essential to change cultural norms around breastfeeding. This can be done by working with community leaders and religious leaders to promote breastfeeding as a healthy and normal practice. We can help increase breastfeeding rates and improve children’s health nationwide by addressing the challenges that mothers face in Tanzania.

If you are interested in helping, there are several things you can do. You can donate to organizations that support breastfeeding mothers, such as the Tanzania Breastfeeding Association. You can also volunteer to help educate mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding. And you can talk to your friends and family about the importance of breastfeeding.

Read more Health analysis by Hilalius Libent.

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