The World Health Organisation recommends that infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health – but it’s not always possible.
Some moms mention going back to work or school as a reason for introducing non-breast milk foods, others give in to community pressure to feed solids and formula to their babies and some believe that breast milk only is not sufficient for their babies.
However, medical experts strongly discourage early introduction of solids because it may have dire consequences such as undernutrition and death and an increased possibility of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the long term.
Lerato Mokoena* 21 said she believed that feeding her month-old daughter solids would make her gain weight after she had been born prematurely at 30 weeks. “My daughter’s birth weight was 1.9 kilograms. I fed her soft porridge because I thought it would make her gain some weight since she was too small.”
However, Nthabiseng Moloi* 27 took the decision to exclusively breastfeed her daughter for the first six months. “I introduced solids when my baby was six months and I am planning to breastfeed until she is two years old.”
Moloi said her decision was inspired by a book she read while she was pregnant. “The book said feeding solids to infants before six months could cause problems to the baby later in life as her organs were not well developed and she had not started to produce saliva that helps with swallowing.” She was afraid her baby could choke on her food since she was unable to swallow solids.
The World Health Organisations says breastfeeding is an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. “It is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.” Medical experts strongly discourage early introduction of solids because it may have dire consequences such as undernutrition and death and an increased possibility of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the long term.
Medical experts strongly discourage early introduction of solids because it may have dire consequences such as undernutrition and death and an increased possibility of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the long term.
Moloi said her friends tried to coerce her to feed her daughter solids but she did not give in to the pressure. “My husband and family supported my decision and this made things a lot easier for me. Another reason why I stuck to exclusive breastfeeding is that I enjoyed that I could bond with my baby while ensuring that she stayed healthy.”
Studies show that inappropriate infant feeding practices are the major contributors to undernutrition in developing countries where children who aren’t fed properly have repeated infections, and are almost six times more likely to die by the age of one month.
Researchers have also found that the early introduction of solids in babies is associated with allergic diseases, including eczema and an increased rate of wheezing.
Moloi said that during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, her baby never had any health issues such as constipation which most infants are likely to experience as a result of being fed solids such as soft porridge.
“My daughter is a healthy 18 months old who does not have any food allergies or eczema, something that I think is a benefit of exclusive breastfeeding.”
This is a different story for Mokoena whose child has struggled with constipation, eczema and food allergies.
An edited version of this story was published by Health24.