The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: More Mothers Exclusively Breastfeed

Save the Children's latest assessment of breastfeeding trends globally shows that more Rwandan mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies.

At 85 per cent, Rwanda ranks highest in exclusive breastfeeding of newborns, according to Superfood for Babies, a Save the Children report, released on Wednesday.

This means that 85 per cent of women breastfeed exclusively in the first six months.

This is attributed to a number of mechanisms in place such as the fact that working mothers are allowed to take an hour off work per day to breastfeed for a year after child birth, according to the report.

Geoffrey Mugisha, the Country Director for Save the Children in Rwanda, said in a statement that breastfeeding is a natural cheap way of saving a baby that could be neglected due to lack of education for poorer mothers and inadequate support at birth, thus missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding.

He called upon governments to be vigilant and adhere to the international Code of Marketing of Breast milk substitutes.

According to experts, breast milk is a super food. In the first hours and days of her baby's life the mother produces milk called colostrum, the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.

Babies are supposed to breastfeed after every two to three hours daily in order to keep healthy and get all the required nutrients, according to research. Newborns should not go more than 4 hours without feeding.

Alexis Mucumbitsi of the nutrition desk in the Ministry of Health says Rwanda has made significant progress in terms of nutrition education on breastfeeding thanks to the leadership at the highest levels of government.

"The Ministry has put efforts to train all health care staff and community health workers in skills necessary to implement nutrition policy, inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding, show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation, barriers to breastfeeding, social-cultural constraints to breastfeeding," said Mucumbitsi.

According to Mucumbitsi, mass media in Rwanda has also played a major role in promoting breastfeeding. The ministry, he added, has continued to provide messages about breastfeeding on Community Radio in collaboration with journalists.

But Kelvin Uwimana, a 26-year old mother and resident of Kacyiru who works as a receptionist in Kigali, says even though Rwanda ranks highly in exclusive breastfeeding, the time allocated for maternity leave could pose a great challenge.

"We are only entitled to six weeks of maternity leave which makes it hard to breast feed exclusively for the first six months. Although we have that one hour (after six weeks), the baby can't stay hungry for all the hours the mother is at work which is why we resort to formula or cow milk at an early age. If maternity leave would at least be three months, then we would feel like we breastfeed more exclusively," she said.

Uwimana called upon the responsible authorities to be mindful of Rwandan babies while making laws on how much time should be allocated to maternity leave.

UNICEF and the World Health Organisation recommend that children be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives.

Early supplements such as powdered milk or semi-solid complementary food is discouraged because it exposes infants to bacteria or viruses that are capable of causing disease and increases the babies' risk of infection.

Malnutrition in the first 1,000 days can cause irreversible damage to the growth and development of the child. Research for this report estimates that 830,000 newborn deaths could be prevented every year if all infants were given breast milk in the first hour of life.

A child who is not breastfed is 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhea.

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