I’ve seen women breastfeeding their children in Sub Saharan Africa everywhere I went. I make the distinction because in the northern part of Africa breastfeeding your children in public is not socially accepted and therefore not practiced. But in East Africa, the part of Africa I’m most familiar with due to the repeated visits I’ve made in the past years mothers always breastfeed their children and they do it in public, whenever children start crying. If they don’t and children start crying people will simply deduce that the children doesn’t belong to the woman that carries him/her. Not breastfeeding your children while being able to is something immediately sanctioned by society and it wouldn’t be unusual to hear people launching witchcraft accusation at the women who refuse to breastfeed their children. You might be asking yourself now – why the hell do I care about breastfeeding so much that I’m dedicating a whole post to it. Well, it turns out breastfeeding is very good for children and that it is recommended to breastfeed it for at least a couple of years. In some East African villages I’ve seen women breastfeeding their children for much more than that up to 6-7 years. It turns out that’s not a bad idea either. In the West, breastfeeding a child in public is an abhorrent thing to do. Many women don’t breastfeed their children at all and use special formula based milk to feed their children.
Breastfeeding is really important for children. Human breast milk has lactose, a disaccharide that provides energy to the infant. It also has lipids, which delivers nutrient fat. This is healthy fat, in oppose to the visceral fat that surrounds internal organs and is linked to diabetes and heart diseases. Something else that I learned in the general bio course I’m taking this quarter is that breast milk can also increase children’s immunity system. Sugars in breast milk appeal to different bacteria that colonize the gut of the infant. Some of these bacteria prevent different pathogens from infecting pathogens – especially Escherichia coli that causes food poisoning for humans and can be deadly for children. And check this out: babies fed formula milk have higher rates of diarrhea than children fed with breast milk. Moreover, breast milk oligosaccharides (component sugars) will also defend the body against bacterial infections. Breast milk also prevents respiratory diseases.
Back to Africa for conclusions. A series of practices that are common knowledge across the African continent have historically been contested, dismissed or forbidden. The tyranny of the majority has made many Westerners biased against Africa because many people engaged in social rituals that were unacceptable to the Western eye. Publicly breastfeeding children is one of them. But as you can see on your own, this practice has been helping toddlers, not harming them. And Westerns have been discovering more and more about the African wisdom. It might not be based on science, formulas, or written texts but it doesn’t make it less valuable. And we should all understand that sooner rather than later.