The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children be exclusively breastfed from within the first hour of birth to six months of life for their optimal growth and development. The emphasis placed on the benefits of having this gold drink for both the mother and the baby is immense. However, for this to be successful, multiple people must be willing to play their part.
On 8th May 2018, social media was ablaze with raging comments because of the maltreatment case of a mother in a Nairobi restaurant for breastfeeding her little one. It was a clear indication that some members of society are yet to normalize the act of public breastfeeding. That notwithstanding, other factors that have hindered women from achieving the sixth-month mark include;
- Insufficient awareness on the advantages both for the mother and the newborn, more so for women opting to not visit hospitals during pregnancy and childbirth
- Lack of family support. If the partner is not supportive of exclusive breastfeeding, there is a high probability of the woman not breastfeeding
- Maternal employment. Based on the structures available at the workplace, some women return to work earlier than recommended for fear of losing their jobs. Also, the workplace may not be conducive in terms of flexible hours and facilities contributing to interrupted breast milk supply
- Lack of guidance and encouragement from healthcare professionals when it comes to first-time mothers and latching
- The misconception that formula is equivalent or superior to breast milk
- Lactation problems as a result of poor latching, position, and nutrition as well as structural issues like cleft palate, down’s syndrome, and a tongue-tie
- Beliefs peddled by young mothers that breastfeeding contributes to sagging breasts
- The assumption that a child’s cry is a cue for hunger and that translates to the early introduction of food
Despite these challenges, as a country, we are forging on in the right direction. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) report of 2014, 61% of mothers practiced exclusive breastfeeding. The statistic places Kenya ahead of other African nations and is among the countries that have achieved the World Health Assembly target of increasing exclusive breastfeeding to 50% by 2025.
Measures Kenya has taken to increase the breastfeeding rates
- The 2017 Health Act compels employers to support breastfeeding by giving a three-month maternity break, providing a breastfeeding room with proper lighting and storage facilities, ensuring flexible working hours, and issuing breastfeeding breaks. Only a few organizations have picked this up
- Baby-friendly hospital initiative which involves training of mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding and how to breastfeed
- Baby-friendly community initiative where follow up is done at a community level to ensure breastfeeding is ongoing
- Introduction of baby care or lactation rooms in several businesses such as malls, open-air markets as is the case of Chuka market, and social places like churches.
- Setting up a breast milk bank at Pumwani Maternity Hospital. The facility is the first in East Africa and second in Africa. It aims at helping infants whose mothers are unable to breastfeed by providing them with donors’ breast milk so they can get the full benefits
- The Breast milk substitute act of 2012 restricts any marketing and promotion activities of complementary foods
While the government and several private organizations have taken the initiative to promote breastfeeding, much still ought to be done at the family level. Fathers can encourage their women to breastfeed frequently (on demand), assure the mum that breast milk is enough, take care of the baby so that she gets some rest, and help provide healthy, nutritious meals. As a society, let us normalize the culture of seeing our women breastfeed in public without shaming them.
We all have a role to play. Only if we all stepped up can we be close to achieving the third sustainable goal of good health and well-being. Additionally, a breastfeeding mother who is well cared for at home and work is at ease and very productive.