Breastfeeding in Zimbabwe
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.

There is a correlation between education and breastfeeding in Zimbabwe as well. People have observed a connection between education and breastfeeding not only in the patterns of the mother but also in how it affects her children.


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
Photo: Pixabay

The first week of August was World Breastfeeding Week, a week that, among other things, aims to inform the public something often overlooked: increasing the number of moms who breastfeed could significantly help decrease infant mortality and boost survival in extreme poverty. A healthy and low-cost practice, breastfeeding helps alleviate poverty.

Essential Health Benefits and Survival Booster

Breast milk has all the nutrition that a baby needs in its first six months of life and is a natural way of warding off diseases. Studies show that breastfeeding could decrease the risk of diabetes, allergies and other health hazards that may come in the baby’s later life. It is recommended that mothers feed their babies with breast milk exclusively for six months, and then breastfeed up to two years while introducing nutritional solid food.

Breastfeeding is not only beneficial but also necessary. A baby’s survival rate is boosted if it takes in breast milk within the first hour after birth. Failure to give a baby breast milk within a short period of time after birth could increase the possibility of infant death by as much as 80 percent.

The effects of breastfeeding on a global scale are striking. If all mothers across the world exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months and then feed their babies with breast milk along with other solid food for another year, 13 percent of global child deaths under five could be averted. Other recommended methods to increase child survival, such as hygienic delivery, Hib vaccine and tetanus toxoid, could each avert only up to 5 percent of child deaths under five.

“Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself,” UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Shahida Azfar said on Mother’s Day.

Why Breastfeeding Helps Alleviate Poverty?

Breastfeeding is important everywhere in the world, and an essential way to help mothers in poverty or wealth. But poor regions with unclean water and insufficient hygiene should especially embrace breastfeeding because in these places this issue has a higher stake: artificial milk or infant formulas could become poisonous if contaminated, resulting in illnesses, or even death. Breast milk also provides sufficient water for babies in their first six months.

Breastfeeding is low-cost yet easily meets the nutritional needs of young babies. In other words, breastfeeding promises food security for babies and takes off some of the households’ financial burdens.

In a joint message released during the 2016 Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF and WHO stated: “breastfeeding is not only the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development; it is also the foundation of a country’s development. In fact, supporting breastfeeding is one of the smartest investments countries can make in the well-being of their citizens–and thus, in their own long-term strength.”

Why Aren’t More Mothers Breastfeeding?

It might be counter-intuitive that many mothers do not breastfeed their babies even though breastfeeding is ultimately the most cost-efficient practice. But breastfeeding may not be as easy as it appears: female workers often cannot afford sustained breastfeeding because their working environment or work routine do not provide them with the time and space for the practice.

UNICEF calls for support of national legislation and policies that provide women with paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks and other deserved benefits after birth.

UNICEF and WHO also launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in 1991. This initiative essentially does not allow feeding bottles and cheap breast milk substitutes. The initiative proved highly successful. Cuba, for example, saw a three-fold increase in exclusive breastfeeding for four months in the stretch of only six years after making 49 of 56 hospitals or maternity facilities baby-friendly.

Countries also need more informed, supportive health-workers who encourage and assist with breastfeeding. Advocacy for breastfeeding like the World Breastfeeding Week also helps raise awareness.

“Now, as governments around the world develop budgets and action plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, breastfeeding must be a policy, programming, and public spending priority,” WHO and UNICEF stated in 2016.

– Feng Ye
Photo: Flickr

World Breastfeeding Week

Breastmilk is a baby’s best protection against illness and disease, but data has shown that the number of newborns breastfed within the first hour of life has not improved over the past 15 years. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from August 1–7 in over 170 countries, and global organizations are sharing how early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.

5 Things to Know About Breastfeeding

  1. Delayed breastfeeding, even only 24 hours after birth, increases the child’s risk of dying within the first 28 days of life by 80 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Several factors contribute to this issue—from inadequate healthcare during delivery to babies being fed less nutritious alternatives, such as formula, cow’s milk or sugar water. These alternatives all decrease a newborn’s chance of survival. As such, government policymakers and organizations are targeting this issue by raising awareness and encouraging others to protect and promote exclusive breastfeeding.
  2. Research has found a clear connection between breastfeeding and higher IQ scores and educational achievement. Giving children the proper nutrition at the start of life supports optimal development and leads to higher earnings later in life–specifically, 12 percent higher per hour in high-income countries, and 16 percent in low to middle-income countries.
  3. The Global Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative led by UNICEF and WHO is working with international partners to help build a healthy society. Lawmakers can show their support by ensuring a minimum of four months paid maternity leave, requiring employers to provide protection for mothers to pump milk at work and preventing discrimination against women and mothers in the workplace.
  4. Approximately 200 million children alive today will fail to reach their full physical, mental and social potential. Why? Negative factors inhibiting early childhood development–not being breastfed is among those factors. For this reason, WHO is working with countries to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months up to, at least, 50 percent by 2025, in order to turn things around and save millions of lives.
  5. Breastfeeding produces long-term health benefits for both the mother and the child. The act of breastfeeding produces oxytocin, protects against diarrhea and common illnesses like pneumonia, and reduces the risk of obesity in childhood and adolescence. It is crucial that people are knowledgeable on the subject of breastfeeding and the effects it has on a child’s life.

Though some of the statistics given might seem shocking, World Breastfeeding Week takes the initial steps necessary to create change by raising awareness of the problem and producing individuals that can implement solutions.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

On August 1, 2014, the United Nations kicked off World Breastfeeding Week in the hopes of launching a worldwide initiative to educate and encourage more mothers to breastfeed. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in 170 countries around the world from August 1 to August 7.

This year’s particular celebration is focused on promoting the link between breastfeeding and the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG 4: decreasing child mortality.

Among the United Nations officials launching the start of this week was Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake. In a statement marking the importance of World Breastfeeding Week, Lake stressed, “Immediate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth could prevent one in five unnecessary deaths…that’s more than 500,000 children every year, more than 1,500 children every day.”

Breastfeeding not only supplies good nutrition for infants, but also reduces the risk of malnourishment and the risk of obesity later in life. “By supporting nutrition and strengthening the bond between mother and child,” said Lake, “breastfeeding also supports healthy brain development.” Breastfeeding also helps prevent growth stunting, a tragedy that affects millions of children every year both physically and cognitively.

Although breastfeeding is the most cost-effective and healthy way to support young babies, fewer than half of the world’s newborns are breastfed regularly.

In order to change this, UNICEF is working with governments and local communities to end false marketing and the use of breast milk substitutes, in order to make it easier for women to breastfeed their infants.

Dr. Noel Zagre, the UNICEF Regional Nutrition Advisor for Equatorial and Southern Africa, explained that too often people talk about breastfeeding in general terms. However, the important thing is to teach mothers how to breastfeed effectively, meaning putting the child on breast milk no more than an hour after birth and continuing to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life.

Although the number of children under the age of five that die each year has declined in recent decades, there are still nearly seven million that die every year. Forty percent of these children are newborns.

Dr. Zagre noted evidence that “many countries are not yet doing very well even though we know that we have also observed a lot of progress in other countries…some countries are still having very low exclusive breastfeeding rates like five percent while others are…reaching 89 to 95 percent.”

The United Nations is determined to institute plans to promote breastfeeding and educate communities and governments around the world about infant health and the importance of breastfeeding effectively. Although progress has been slow, Dr. Zagre noted the importance of bridging the gap between these startling statistics.

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: UN 1, UN 2, All Africa
Photo: Tribune