Importance of breastfeeding


STORIES are told of maternal grandmothers breastfeeding their grandchildren in the past.
According to cultural resource person Mbuya Ellen Chipuriro, the maternal grandmother would take care and breastfeed the child in the event that the natural mother could not breastfeed due to illness, death or other causes.
“Incisions (nyora) would be made on the grandmother’s breast and herbs were applied to induce breast milk,” said Mbuya Chipuriro.
“Please note that the grandmother to take on this role was the maternal grandmother only.”
She added that later, when the child (if a girl) got married, the grandmother would get ‘mbwazukuru’, an appreciation token which would be paid in the form of a goat and later, depending on capability, some would bring a cow.
However, this has become a thing of the past for reasons which include the high risk of transmission of diseases, among others.
Scientifically, it is also possible to breastfeed a child who is not biologically yours.
The book ‘Human Milk in the Modern World: Psychosocial, Nutritional and Economic Significance’ states that induced lactation has been embraced as a way to provide an enhanced bonding experience for women adopting babies.
The special closeness fostered by breastfeeding can be profoundly comforting for both mother and child.
Many women who have struggled with fertility problems value the experience of breastfeeding, even if the volume of milk they produce is little.
However, the amount of milk produced varies from woman to woman and emphasis must be put on the positive aspects of nurturing and closeness, rather than on the volume of milk actually produced.
According to, it is possible for any woman to breastfeed a child because prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones that govern lactation, are pituitary, not ovarian hormones.
Therefore, even if a woman has had a hysterectomy (removal of/or part of the uterus), she may lactate, provided her overall health is good.
(Estrogen, in the form of birth control pills or for replacement therapy, is a lactation suppressant.)
Both prolactin, the milk-making hormone and oxytocin, the milk-releasing hormone, are produced in response to nipple stimulation.
While there are now several regimens that use hormone therapy to assist in bringing in milk, many women have induced lactation with only mechanical stimulation. This consists of breast massage, nipple manipulation and sucking—either by a baby or a hospital grade electric breast pump.
Some adopting mothers rent a breast pump in anticipation of the infant; other mothers simply put the adopted infant to breast.
Hormone therapy to induce lactation generally consists of taking estrogen to simulate the high-estrogen state of pregnancy.
The estrogen is then abruptly stopped to mimic the rapid hormonal changes following delivery.
A course of a prolactin-enhancing drug such as metoclopramide (reglan) is then instituted.
Sucking stimulation (with a pump or by the baby) is begun at this point.
Milk production typically begins between one-to-four weeks after initiating mechanical stimulation.
At first, the mother may see only drops.
During the time that milk production is building, she may notice changes in the colour of the nipples and areolar tissue.
Breasts may become tender and fuller.
Some women report increased thirst and changes in their menstrual cycles or libidos.
However, these methods are not common in Zimbabwe as most women still take on the responsibility of breastfeeding. And, adoption is still low.
In cases where one has adopted or is taking care of a relative’s child people use formula milk as a substitute.
As Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7, the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa, emphasised the need for every mother to have adequate breastfeeding time with their babies.
“Workplaces should create this environment to express and store breast milk to be fed to their babies while they are away,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
“This includes enacting maternity leave policies that assist women to breastfeed babies for the first six months of life.”
Dr Parirenyatwa, said breastfeeding exclusively for six months helps prevent malnutrition, increases intelligence and promotes healthy development of the child.
“Zimbabwe is a breastfeeding nation, with 98 out of every 100 children being breastfed at some point in their lives,” he said.
“The challenge, however, is when it comes to adhering to the recommendations for optimum breast milk only up to the age of six months.
“Only 48 out 100 children are given breast milk only for just two months of their lives.
“This predisposes children to infections and compromises their growth and development.”
World Breastfeeding Week is held annually during the first week of August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
Over 120 countries across the world get involved in the commemoration and this year’s theme was ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding Together’.
This theme celebrates working together for the common good, which produces sustainable results, greater than the sum of our individual efforts.


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