Pregnant mothers can continue breastfeeding: Experts

By Abigirl Tembo

IN an effort to reduce cases of malnutrition in rural areas, the Ministry of Health and Child Care in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are working with community leaders in demystifying myths associated with breastfeeding.

A number of myths surround the issue of breastfeeding with the most common being the idea of breastfeeding for pregnant mothers amid claims that pregnancy contaminates the milk.

However, this is just a myth as alluded to by Chipinge District Nutritionist, Mrs Samkeliso Masikati.

“Some of the myths we have been encountering include families believing in weaning children when their mothers get pregnant so there is abrupt weaning that occurs. In such cases we have seen that children will suffer from malnutrition because once they are weaned they are not given enough food to keep them healthy.

“As a nutritionist and as the Ministry of Health and Child Care we recommend that a mother should continue breastfeeding even when she gets pregnant, there is no problem and nothing happens to the baby. We recommend they continue breastfeeding up to a time when they even go for labour. In this village they have been holding on to that myth that the milk somehow gets because the mother is pregnant. We are working on educating them that there is no problem and they can continue breastfeeding when they get pregnant,” she said.

Communities are also warming up to the idea, with villagers from Chigonda area under Chief Mapungwane in Chipinge District joining hands in fighting malnutrition through the imposition of fines on couples who wean their children prematurely.

“We have set fines for all couples who wean their babies before the prescribed times.  If your case is reported to the headman you pay a cock and a hen, if it is to the chief you pay a goat. It all started when the nurses at our local clinic realised that cases of malnutrition and stunted growth were on the increase and after further investigations it was revealed that when most mothers got pregnant while breastfeeding they would stop breastfeeding resulting in poor health for the child which resulted in them roping in traditional leaders,” explained Village Head, Mr George Maphosa.

“We started the issue of fines about six years ago and since then, malnutrition cases have drastically gone down, which is a good thing, even maternal deaths have gone down because we also fine mothers who deliver at home, noted Chief Mapungwana.

The percentage of children who were never breastfed continues to fall every year with findings from the 2022 Rural Livelihoods Assessment Report showing that the proportion of children who were breastfed is now at 90 percent.