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Breastmilk is best for early childhood development

Categories: HEADLINES, Early Childhood Development (ECD)
“It’s at this time of the year that we want to encourage and remind all mothers to give their babies the healthiest start to life by breastfeeding exclusively for the first 200 days of their newborn’s life,” says Tom Bergmann-Harris, past president of the Rotary Club of Claremont spearheading Early Childhood Development for Rotary in the Western Cape, Namibia and Angola.

South Africans focus on women this month, celebrating National Breastfeeding Week and Women’s Day.

"Breast is best", says Bergmann-Harris. "Breastmilk is the best food for babies. It has all essential nutrients in precisely the right quantities and combination. Breastmilk is fundamentally important for every child's health and growth. The first 2000 days are critical in child development and exclusive breastfeeding is crucial during the first 200 days,” he continues.

Breastfeeding also has long-term health benefits for children. Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from childhood respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal disease and heart disease. The Lancet, a peer-reviewed general medical journal, reports that breastfeeding reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes by as much as 35% and the incidence of obesity by 13%.1

In addition, research has shown that breastfeeding mothers have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer and some cardiovascular diseases.2 “On aggregate, these health benefits already save millions of lives each year. There is, however, room for improvement,” says Ian Robertson, current President of the Rotary Club of Claremont. The scaling up of breastfeeding to a near universal level could prevent 823 000 annual deaths in children younger than five years and 20 000 deaths from breast cancer.3

“Breastfeeding is a cornerstone for child survival, nutrition, heath and development,” says Robertson. “It materially affects the long term earning and educational potential of infants,” he continues. The Breastfeeding Series4, an evidence-based report published this year in the Lancet, found that “breastfeeding [is] consistently associated with higher performance in intelligence tests in children and adolescents.” This increase in intelligence quotient (IQ) scores is linked directly to higher earnings throughout adulthood.

Despite this, globally only 38% of infants are breastfed exclusively.5 Women face multiple challenges when it comes to breastfeeding. These include insufficient maternity leave, lack of knowledge, lack of support by government and society, and negative social pressures such as taboos on breastfeeding in public. “We encourage mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first 200 days and support our ECD mothers by educating them on the benefits of breastfeeding, lifting the stigmatism around breastfeeding in public” concludes Robertson.

For more information on Rotary Club of Claremont, please visit http://claremontrotary.co.za/.


1. Emergency preparedness for those who care for infants in developed country contexts, Gribble and Berry, International Breastfeeding Journal (2011)

2. http://www.unicef.org/nutrition/files/Breastfeeding_Advocacy_Strategy-2015.pdf

3. Walker N, Tam Y, Friberg IK. Overview of the Lives Saved Tool (LiST). BMC Public Health 2013

4. The Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group. Lancet 2016; 387:475-491


5. http://www.who.int/nutrition/global-target-2025/infographic_breastfeeding.pdf?ua=1


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