Nutritionist, Dr. Pauline Samuda, says that while exclusive breastfeeding has increased in Jamaica, greater effort must be taken to ensure that the practice is sustained for longer than six weeks.
Her comment came against the findings of an exclusive breastfeeding pilot carried out by the Ministry of Health, which found a fall off in exclusive breastfeeding rates after the first six weeks of life. The two-year (2009-2011) Breastfeeding Pilot Project was implemented in selected health facilities in the parishes of St. Catherine and Clarendon.
Highlighting the findings at a dissemination meeting held Tuesday (January 29) at the Eden Gardens in St. Andrew, Dr. Samuda, who was the project consultant, said exclusive breastfeeding rates at six weeks, increased by 6.1 per cent and 5.1 in Clarendon and St. Catherine respectively, over the two-year period, surpassing the Ministry’s target of 5.0 per cent.
At three months, the rates increased by 7.5 per cent in Clarendon, and only 2.3 per cent in St. Catherine.
“We are doing very well at the six weeks level (but), we have to see new strategies and methods to move to the older age groups,” Dr. Samuda stated.
The Consultant informed that through the initiative, 215 Ministry of Health workers from the two parishes were trained in infant and young child feeding. Of the total, 182 were technical staff, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health aides, while 33 were non-technical staff such as orderlies, medical records clerks, security guards.
She said that while the Ministry boasts some success in the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, some areas need strengthening. These include home visits to postnatal mothers, which she said, are crucial for overcoming breastfeeding challenges especially in the first days after leaving hospital; and the strengthening of the breastfeeding mother support group through the provision of education material, identification badges, and financial assistance for travelling.
Dr. Samuda also pointed to myths engrained in the Jamaican culture, which hinder efforts at exclusive breastfeeding. These include the mistaken notion that infants need bush tea to clear their stomach in the mornings; babies need water to quench their thirst; expressed milk is not good for the baby; feeding young babies tomato leaves will help with gripe; mothers do not produce enough milk, hence the reason for additional food; extensive breastfeeding will give the mothers “slipper titties”; and a mother should not breastfeed if she has a cold.
She said that based on the results of the evaluation exercise carried out, it has been recommended that a breastfeeding hotline should be established to provide breastfeeding support to postnatal women, especially first time mothers. It was also suggested that all categories of health staff attend periodic refresher courses in young child feeding.
On an administrative level it was also recommended that the National Infant and Young Child Feeding Policy be finalized and sustained administrative support be provided to breastfeeding mother support groups. Breastfeeding videos and educational materials in the health facilities should also be evaluated.
The aims of the exclusive breastfeeding pilot included:
Increasing the exclusive breastfeeding rate by five per cent
Determining change in exclusive breast rates over the two-year intervention period
Reviewing the processes used in the project and the capacity-building activities carried out
Determining the effect of the project implementation on the breastfeeding behaviours of the mothers, who use the services of the clinics and the health care workers who were trained
The project was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as the consumption of breast milk without supplementation of any other food or liquids including water. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, as it reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helps with quicker recovery from illness.
WHO also recommends that after six months, the child receives supplemented breastfeeding for at least one year and up to two years.