Since arriving in Ghana, the sight of breasts has been everywhere! While I pride myself on being an advocate for a woman having the right to feed her baby (my health and human rights professor will be proud), I do have to honestly say that it being so openly done has taken some getting used to. On the public bus to Paga last weekend, the woman next to me calmly whipped out her breasts to feed her twins at the same time. It was apparent from the reaction, or non-reaction, of the Ghanaians on the bus that this act was clearly as normal as drinking a bottle of water.
The act of breastfeeding is a natural act; a mother’s body produces milk filled with nutrients essential for the baby’s health and development – especially within the first six month of life. However, this simple and natural act has not come without controversy. In western countries like the UK and the US, public breastfeeding is generally not accepted – mothers have even been asked to leave planes and restaurants for breastfeeding. This has resulted in the birth of campaign groups and social movements advocating for the right to breastfeed in public, turning this natural act into a political issue. ‘Lactivists‘ have organised sit-ins to protest their right to breast feed in public
The complete opposite attitude exists in Ghana, which not only shows a cultural acceptance but also indicates progress in Ghana meeting the Millennium Development Goal associated with infant mortality and maternal health. With some of the benefits of breastfeeding being improved neurological development, reduced risks of common childhood illnesses and an increased bond between mother and child, health organisations such as WHO and UNICEF argue that breast is best.
In developing countries, it also shows a turnaround from the use of infant formula that was aggressively marketed years ago. In addition to infant formula not having the nutrients and antibodies contained in breast milk, it has also been shown to make children more susceptible to disease and preventable death. This is most prevalent in situations where clean water is not always available, meaning mothers mix the formula powder with contaminated water, causing a high number of deaths from illnesses such as diarrhoea.
In Ghana, significant progress has been made to turn nursing mothers back to breast milk. With over 60% exclusively feeding breast milk to their babies under 6 months of age, Ghana has one of the best figures in Sub Saharan Africa.
Therefore the next time I feel astounded at the sight of women whipping out their breasts to feed children in public, I will make a conscious effort to remember that this is a sign of greater development.