Zimbabwe is an African country located in the southern region of the continent. It has beautiful landscapes and wildlife that attract many people every year, but the country is still intensely poverty-stricken. In fact, it is one of the poorest nations in the world with a whopping 70 percent of the entire nation living under the poverty line.Many of the downsides that come with poverty are present in the country, but one downside that people often do not consider is how poverty affects breastfeeding in Zimbabwe. While people often see breastfeeding as a natural process that even the poorest populations do, breastfeeding is limited in Zimbabwe. About 66.8 percent of Zimbabwean women exclusively breastfed their newborns between the first six months of life with only 32 percent starting breastfeeding within the first day of life. In a country of malnourished people and food scarcity, this article will explore why women do not frequently breastfeed in Zimbabwe.
The Reason Women Do Not Breastfeed in Zimbabwe
One can attribute the lack of exclusive breastfeeding in Zimbabwe to a set of issues that include low education, low income and traditional practices as well as the country having a patriarchal society. Women said what they were only comfortable exclusively breastfeeding for the first three months of their child’s life and this directly relates to the fact that there is intense pressure from in-laws to include different foods in their babies’ diets which stems from long uninformed traditions. With little to no support from the male partner, mothers can find it difficult to resist this pressure.
In combination with these factors, there is also the simple fact that many Zimbabwean women suffer extreme malnourishment. Some reports also stated that many mothers who did not engage in exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first three months of life were simply unable to produce enough milk to fully nourish their babies.
The Effect On Zimbabwean Babies
Zimbabwe has an infant mortality rate of 50 deaths per 1,000 births. For perspective, the infant mortality rate in the United States is five deaths per 1,000 births. Reports determined that 10 percent of all mortality in children aged 5 years was because of non-exclusive breastfeeding at the beginning of life, which is quite significant.
In conjunction with this high infant mortality rate, there is also chronic malnutrition and stunting. Approximately 27 percent of children under the age of 5 in Zimbabwe suffer from chronic malnutrition. Stunting also occurs in Zimbabwean children but varies by region from 19 percent to 31 percent.
Some are making efforts to bring more awareness and education to the people of Zimbabwe. One of these efforts is the initiation of World Breastfeeding Week which representatives from WHO, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Child Care launched due to concerns about the low exclusive breastfeeding rates. Only 48 percent of babies below the age of 6 months received exclusive breastfeeding at the time of this event which is significantly lower than the 66.8 percent in 2019.
The improved statistics show that efforts to combat the misinformation and societal pressures among Zimbabwean women to improve rates of exclusive breastfeeding are working. While poverty negatively affects breastfeeding in Zimbabwe, others are slowly combating it.
– Samira Darwich