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m2m Advocates for Exclusive Breastfeeding at the 2nd World Breastfeeding Conference

m2m staff and Mentor Mothers panel

m2m staff and Mentor Mothers panel

The 2nd World Breastfeeding Conference, hosted by the South African Department of Health in partnership with International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and other stakeholders, including mothers2mothers (m2m), was held in Johannesburg from 11-14 December 2016. m2m was part of the opening session with three Mentor Mothers and Nozi Samela, a former Mentor Mother who is now a Communications Associate at m2m, sharing their personal stories on how they breastfed while being HIV positive. This was followed by a Q&A session from the audience who were eager to find out more about the programme and what m2m does.

Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of children’s lives (from conception to 24 months after delivery) can have irreversible consequences on health. Good nutrition through exclusive breastfeeding for six months significantly improves a child’s chance of survival and long-term good health. The agenda for the conference focused on exercising women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights to food, nutrition, and maternity protection. Areas that are fundamental to achieving good nutrition, such as the framework for action on child nutrition, including emerging issues of obesity and HIV/AIDS, were also analysed.

Nozi Samela (left), former Mentor Mother

Nozi Samela (left), former Mentor Mother

Nozi Samela a working mom shared said, “My biggest wish is for all the mothers – living with HIV or not – to be able to breastfeed their children in peace, whenever and wherever they choose to. I wish society can stop treating breastfeeding like it is a disgusting thing to do. Human milk is what human babies are supposed to be eating, it is so with all the other mammals, and I have no idea why we choose to believe otherwise.”

Breastfeeding rates across the globe are low. In South Africa, the status quo is similar, with approximately 45% of mothers choosing to breastfeed their babies. This is more so among mothers living with HIV, despite the World Health Organization recommendations that HIV-positive women can safely exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months, while they themselves are on HIV treatment. Mentor Mother Irene Nkosi said, “The support and love I received while pregnant at m2m was so different than my last pregnancy. I knew everything I had to do to protect my baby from infection. I could make an informed decision as to how I feed my child and I chose to breastfeed her.”

Dr. Shungu Gwarinda's opening speech

Dr. Shungu Gwarinda’s opening speech

m2m South African country director Dr. Shungu Gwarinda said in her opening speech, “For women living with HIV, the impact of social norms regarding infant feeding practices, as well as cultural customs increase the risk of mixed feeding, which in turn increases the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV to infants.”

“As mothers2mothers, we promote exclusive breastfeeding. Among several of our peer-based interventions, we train and employ local HIV-positive women as Mentor Mothers to work alongside nurses and doctors in public health facilities and within communities. Mentor mother provide peer based health education and support to pregnant and new mothers,” concluded Gwarinda in her speech.

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