My daughter Ivy devours bananas. She can finish off half a banana in minutes and screams if you take it away from her before she’s done. In fact, at five months old she has already tasted bagels, figs and chicken – stuffing anything within reach on my plate into her mouth. At birth, my other daughter Eryn absolutely refused to nurse, and I spent the first 48 hours of her life desperately feeding her a mixture of colostrum and water and eventually turned to formula when she lost too much weight. But we persevered and I successfully nursed her for three years.
For both babies, my intention was to follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their lives. The girls, of course, had something else in mind – and I ended up joining the statistics of mothers who, for whatever reason, fail at following this important medical advice.
Despite the fact that health authorities around the world support the WHO’s recommendation, only 37% of mothers around the world exclusively breast feed for the recommended time. It’s 39% in the developing world, 25.9% in Canada, 14% in Australia, 8% in Brazil, and France doesn’t even register, with negligible breastfeeding statistics past two months post-partum.
Recently, IRIN released a report on the “shocking” decline of exclusive breastfeeding in the West African country of Guinea. Apparently, Muslim women and families are offering newborn infants water that’s been blessed by inscriptions of the Holy Qur’an, and will forgo initiating breastfeeding until this water treatment is administered:
“Countless babies in Guinea are not given their first breast milk for hours – however long it takes a designated family member to bring water that is used to rinse special Koranic verses inscribed on a wooden tablet. This symbolic liquid, the first thing many babies ingest, is just one example of a custom believed to protect children but that can instead jeopardize their health.”
Exclusive breastfeeding rates in Guinea have been cut in half over the past four years, declining to 18.5% in 2012 – and the report spends a lot of time making it sound like this ritual is the culprit, even though other forms of supplementation are mentioned. According to the report, families who administer water, shea butter, or a local tea along with breast milk to their infants, are doing so based on the misinformation that newborns need more than just breast milk to survive and thrive. [Read more...]