A nationwide campaign to increase public awareness on the importance of breastfeeding began on Monday, with a workshop in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. World Breastfeeding Week had taken place the week before.
Medical workers and journalists attended the Bujumbura event, which was organised by the National Programme for Reproductive Health in conjunction with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). Other workshops are also being held around the country.
In the first six months of life, breast milk helps protect children against infections and boosts their psychological and mental development, paediatrician Dr Amelie Nijimbere told the workshop. Many Burundian women give their babies artificial supplements.
A study carried out in July 2002 by the national programme for reproductive health revealed that 98.6 percent of Burundian mothers supplement their milk with water, juice or cow milk.
In these first months, Dr Nijimbere said, babies do not require any other sustenance. A gynaecologist attending the workshop, Dr Tharcisse Nzeyimana, concurred.
The study also showed that only 50.8 percent of Burundian mothers breast-fed within 30 minutes of their babies being delivered and that 68 percent waited more than one hour. The mothers wait because they believe their breast milk is not ready immediately after giving birth or because it is somehow impure.
The study also found many mothers stopped breastfeeding when they got pregnant again. Gynaecologists have no evidence of breastfeeding during pregnancies having adverse effects.
A UNICEF health administrator, Daniel Verna, said that more Burundian women had breastfed in years past. In 1985, 89 percent breast-fed exclusively until their babies were four months old, he said. Now that figure has dropped to 65.2 percent.
Dr. Nzeyimana partially blamed the drop on Burundian labour laws. Working women get only six weeks maternity leave before delivering and six weeks after. From then on, they are only given one hour per day to breastfeed.
This is not enough time, Nzeyimana said. He proposed at least eight weeks' leave instead.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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