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Breastfeeding basics: What you need to know

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated around the world from 1-7 August every year to raise awareness, protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide because of its health benefits for both mothers and their children. The theme this year, “Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life”, calls for greater commitment from government, health practitioners, mothers, doctors and civil society in ensuring lifelong good health for babies and mothers.

“Breastfeeding has been shown to have major health benefits for both the mother and child. The benefits of breastfeeding include protecting babies from some of the biggest killer diseases of infants and children in South Africa: diarrhoea and pneumonia,” says Laura Sayce, Lactation Consultant at Life Healthcare’s Genesis Maternity Clinic.

“It is also associated with improved development and educational achievement. However, babies are not the only beneficiaries. Breastfeeding after birth helps the uterus contract and reduces the mother’s postpartum blood loss, reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and type II diabetes.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), if breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels, about 820 000 child lives would be saved every year. Globally, only 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed[1]. In South Africa a third of children under six months old are now exclusively breastfed. This represents a nearly five-fold increase over the last twenty years[2].

While breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behaviour, therefore ensuring that expectant mothers are prepared is key. Research has demonstrated that mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding practices. “There are two essential ways to prepare for breastfeeding ahead of the birth. Expectant mothers should start by attending a breastfeeding class conducted by a certified lactation expert. They also need a breastfeeding plan. For a successful breastfeeding journey every new mom needs a plan which should include what to do in the first hours following birth, and who they can contact for support. The plan should also consider what steps to take for any special needs, such as how to ensure baby receives breastmilk in the event mom and baby may not be able to breastfeed,” she says.

Sayce continued to say that often mothers don’t realise that if baby doesn’t latch or needs to go to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), they can still express breastmilk to feed their baby.

“World Breastfeeding Week gives us an opportunity to further educate people about the benefits of breastfeeding to save lives and improve the overall health of infants and their mothers.”

To learn more about breastfeeding visit or contact your local Life Healthcare hospital. For breastfeeding support at Genesis Maternity Clinic visit

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