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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Breastfeeding could save lives
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online health staff

African woman breastfeeding
Better education could cut deaths

Afua's first baby died from diarrhoea.

She did not know breastfeeding would reduce the chances of her baby getting sick, or how to use the rehydration tablets that would have saved her.

But by the time her second baby was born in Bawjisase in Ghana, she was in a special breastfeeding programme and her baby boy thrived.

Abiola Tilley-Gyado, senior global health adviser for the charity Plan International who personally advised Afua, said she was a positive example of the benefits of breastfeeding.


She talked to Afua's mother and encouraged her to support the breastfeeding, contrary to her own traditional beliefs.

"Her mother said that breastfeeding would not be enough for the baby and that we should prepare some tea.

When I went back nine months later the mother and baby were doing well
Abiola Tilley-Gyado

"But I told her that if she did not give anything to this baby other than breast milk, I would come back to Ghana again and see the baby.

"I also said that the health visitors would keep in touch with her and give her all her immunisations.

"When I went back nine months later the mother and baby were doing well.

"What really convinced this young girl was that each time the baby was weighed he was putting on weight."

But many mothers, particularly in the developing world, are still suffering through lack of education.


A recent study in The Lancet shows that exclusive breastfeeding can reduce diarrhoeal disease in the less-developed countries.

They found that the children of mothers encouraged to breastfeed had up to a third less diarrhoea problems at three months, and by 15% at six months.

Study author Maharaj Bhan, from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said the evidence all pointed to "breast is best".

"Our findings indicate that promotion of exclusive breastfeeding until age six months in a developing country settling through existing primary-health-care services is feasible, does not lead to growth faltering, and reduces the risk of diarrhoea.

Abiola Tilley-Gyado
'The community is encouraged to help'

"Additionally, educational intervention greatly improved the rates of exclusive breastfeeding, as previously indicated by the results of two community-based trials, which assessed the use of peer counsellors, and several hospital and clinic based programmes.

"Our findings are, however, especially important since behaviour change was achieved with an approach that is feasible on a large scale and is sustainable, because it was implemented through the routine health and nutrition services."


Abiola Tilley-Gyado said this study was very encouraging to charities like Plan, which help promote breastfeeding in the 46 countries where they operate.

"Exclusive breastfeeding is a major priority for us particularly in countries where we have funded a lot of child health benefits."

She said the schemes include encouraging other members of the community, like the family members, to support the breastfeeding.

"We have people who serve as peer educators and peer support groups who help the women when they are failing, this includes their mothers and mothers-in-law.

"These older mothers can serve as counsellors in the early days. These women are also the ones who have to be educated not to give the babies tea or water."

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23 May 02  |  UK News

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