During the first six months of a child’s life, breast milk alone is the ideal food. It contains all the nutrients and water needed for healthy growth. It also provides good protection against many common infections.

Baby milk manufacturers try to persuade mothers that bottle-feeding is the modern and best way of feeding babies. This information is not correct. Breast milk is nearly always better for a baby’s health. Bottled milk requires safe water and very clean bottles and teats to make sure that microbes do not enter the milk. It is expensive. Correct measuring spoons are vital so the milk is the correct strength. Often the water or the feeding bottles are not clean enough or flies are allowed to touch the bottle. Bottled milk lacks the protection from disease that breast milk gives, so babies are far more likely to die from diarrhoea, pneumonia and other diseases.

Even when a mother has HIV, it is still better to breast-feed. If the baby is fed only breast milk for six months with no other liquid or food at all, and the mother then stops breast-feeding as quickly as possible, the risk of passing on HIV is much lower.

Discussion
  • People often believe that bottle-feeding is the best way to feed a baby. Is this belief common in our area? Why should this be?
  • What experience do people have of bottle-feeding? Do bottle-fed babies suffer from more infections than breast-fed babies?
  • What could we do to tell people that breast-feeding is safer, healthier, free and better for babies?
  • What adverts are used to promote the benefits of bottle-feeding? If possible collect some from a magazine or newspaper. Could we design a poster promoting the benefits of breast-feeding that uses similar ideas?
  • How much do people understand about the risks of passing on HIV through breast-feeding? Are the figures (given below) a surprise? What do we think the best choice would be for women who are HIV positive in our area?

BREAST-FEEDING AND HIV 

The longer breast-feeding continues, the greater is the risk of HIV infected mothers passing on the HIV virus to their babies. 

One in every 20 babies will become infected if breast-fed for six months 

Two in every 20 will become infected if breast-fed for a year 

Three in every 20 will become infected if breast-feeding continues for two years. 

However, three to five in every 20 babies are likely to die before the age of five if they are bottle-fed in poor conditions where it is difficult to sterilise bottles and water