…Apparently, health workers are going to war against mothers, sisters, mother-in-laws and village elders to protect infants from cultural beliefs against breastfeeding. It’s science versus religion, and literally, “breastfeeding versus old wives tales.” This ritual works against the WHO recommendation, and is nothing more than a dangerous superstition in need of correction. Unfortunately, no statistics are offered to support just how many families administer the ritual or to illustrate how many infants have actually been harmed because of it.
In fact, the report contradicts itself by including an interview with a woman whose family administered the ritual to her son – and now at one-month old, he’s thriving on breast milk. This is later juxtaposed with the story of an ailing infant who, at five months, is still at its birth weight. In this case, the mother turned to “store-bought milk products,” believing she didn’t have enough breast milk to feed her infant.
There is along history of aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, correlating alarmingly with rising infant mortality rates in developing countries. So I find it strange that IRIN presents an Islamic-inspired tradition as “seriously harming infants,” when the more likely source of a change in cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding is the aggressive marketing of formula.
A point that is subtly buried near the end of the report:
“[UNICEF] says the decline is probably due to three factors: aggressive marketing of milk products has some women adding them to their babies’ diet; the 2008 study might have overstated the rate of exclusive breastfeeding; and socio-political instability in Guinea has hit community nutrition education activities.”
So there you have it. There is no conclusive evidence that mothers and families who participate in this religious ritual are actually harming their infants. But cultural imperialism and mother-blaming sure makes for a great story and headline.