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Early Weaning Suspected in Higher Infant Death Rates in Africa

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A recent study published in The American Journal of Public Health cited new research that suggests that in some areas of Africa, extended breastfeeding is a life saver. The study followed more than 12,000 children born in rural Senegal between 1988 and 1997.

Among the children studied, less than 1 percent were weaned before turning 15 months old. (Most were weaned either because their mother died, or became pregnant.) Of the children that were weaned prior to 15 months, 25% died before their second birthday. The finding support other recent studies that show breastfeeding to be essential to the health of children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Commentary on the study points out that non-breastfed infants are extremely rare in sub-Saharan Africa and that milk donated from other mothers (usually via a wet nurse) was a life-sustaining force that needed further research and promotion.

From the study:

"Given the rarity of non- or only briefly breastfed infants in sub-Saharan Africa, prospective studies of infants of HIV-1 positive mothers are needed to provide reliable estimates of the effects of early weaning and type of replacement feeding on infant morbidity and mortality in various African contexts," the study's authors said. "Re-lactation by wet-nurses tended to be associated with lower child mortality, so despite its multiple constraints this strategy deserves further investigation in settings where it is culturally acceptable."

This is interesting in light of the resurgence of human breast milk banks in the United States. Due to fears of disease and cultural problems with the idea of one woman nursing another woman's child, wet nurses have fallen almost into extinction in the United States.

Even my grandmother remembers a woman in her neighborhood that served as a wet nurse when she was growing up. She said that there was another mother in the area that had been unable to nurse her own children and formula was pretty much non-existent in their area at the time. The mother would carry her baby down to the wet nurse several times a day and would sit and chat with the woman while she nursed her child.

I highly doubt that you'd see that happening these days.

Thanks to the funding that's starting to pop up for human breast milk banks however, mothers with an abundant supply now have the chance to become a modern day wet nurse. Now we just have to figure out how to get that message spread.


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