To commemorate the annual World Breastfeeding Week, Chiemelie Ezeobi spoke to Dr. Chinny Obinwanne, a medical doctor, lactation consultant, and member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. Obinwanne, a nursing mother, is the founder of The Milk Booster, a company that produces lactation products that help increase breast milk supply. She also founded The Breastfeeding Doc, which is a company that provides evidence-based knowledge for healthcare professionals and breastfeeding mothers. In this interview, Obinwanne emphasises the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. Excerpts:
How did the whole business of producing lactation products come about?
After I had my baby, she was admitted into neonatal ICU. This was the beginning of my struggle. I wasn't equipped with the right knowledge. So, after we were discharged home, I continued to suffer with low milk supply. I was not able to meet up to her demand and that left me utterly devastated and I felt like a failure for not being able to accomplish my responsibility as a mother. One day it got so bad that my husband threatened to start my baby on formula. That was how the products came about. Today she is still breastfeeding and will be turning two years next month.
What services do you offer as a company and to whom?
We provide healthy lactation products that help increase breast milk supply. I also provide evidence based knowledge on breastfeeding for both mothers and healthcare professionals. At The Milk Booster, we produce lactation products like cookies, granola, smoothie mix, cocoa mix and juice. All are lactation products that help increase breast milk supply. At The Breastfeeding Doc, we offer knowledge for healthcare professionals and breastfeeding mothers.
What was the journey like to where you are now?
It's been exciting. I derive a lot of joy in helping mother's achieve their breastfeeding goals and seeing all these healthy babies makes it all worth it.
You recently marked the World Breastfeeding Week, how successful was it and what were the lessons learnt by nursing mothers?
It was quite successful with the capacity we had. A lot of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and friends turned up and our venues were full. Mother's went home with so much knowledge and gift bags. The Milk Booster train touched three cities: Port Harcourt, Abuja and of course Lagos. This year, we had an estimate of about 300 mothers, who were touched by the train at the three locations visited. In Lagos, we started off with the breastfeeding walk, which led us to the venue at Landmark Towers, Victoria Island. There, I dished out evidence based knowledge on breastfeeding, while the picky eater specialist @augustsecrets.ng broke down child nutrition, introducing solids to your baby and healthy eating by toddlers with food tasting. Afterwards, we assessed mental health during postpartum before the panel session with experienced mums. I also unveiled my latest project; an online course on breastfeeding for mother's and healthcare professionals via thebreastfeedingdoc.
The highlight of the day was perhaps the "Big Latch On", which was when we simultaneously latched our babies and nurse. There was dance competition and a breastfeeding game before all left with a gift bag containing lots of goodies.
According to statistics, improper feeding accounts for about 40 per cent of child deaths. What do you think hinders nursing mothers from exclusively breastfeeding their babies?
From experience, the thing that hampers nursing mothers from breastfeeding is lack of appropriate knowledge, especially when we are still practicing what our mother's and grandmother's did- by believing that a breastfed baby still needs additional water. Other factors include little or no maternity leave and lack of lactation support when mothers return back to work, among others.
According to the 2016- 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, Nigeria's breastfeeding rate remains low overall with only 23.7 per cent of babies born in the country being breastfed exclusively. What are the implications of not breastfeeding exclusively or not breastfeeding at all?
Babies that are not breastfed exclusively or not at all are at a higher risk of respiratory problems, ear infections, allergy, obesity and diabetes etc. These babies don't have strong immune system, which makes it hard to fight infections. Every year hundreds of thousand babies die because of this. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the rate of mortality amongst children from new-born to five years.
What about those who genuinely find it difficult to breastfeed. What's the way out?
Seek help early. Most breastfeeding issues can be resolved and the earlier help is sought, the better.
Some women are of the opinion that promoting exclusive breastfeeding is merely a way to shame those mothers who can't afford to. What is your take on this?
This is not true and it's sad because this hinders some mothers from coming out to share their experience. The aim is to encourage mothers to breastfeed and not to judge mother's that didn't. I have worked with mothers that didn't get it right with their first baby, but with this knowledge they've been able to do much better with their next baby.
What is your view on the recent movement to stop shaming women who breastfeed in public?
We all should normalise breastfeeding in public. The primary function of the breasts are to nourish babies, every other thing is secondary. The moment we all get this, that's when we will stop judging babies for feeding in the public, as we adults can eat anywhere. Most offices and organisations do not have lactation rooms for working mothers. What is the way out? Organisations should understand that it's in their best interest for mothers to get lactation support at their workplaces. Until this happens, I advise mothers to negotiate with their human resource department and also to invest in a good double electric pump and make the best with a 15-minute session. They can also breakdown their lunch break to 15 minutes each.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneurs?
I struggle with time. In addition to the business, I have to go to work every day and take care of my family.
So how have you kept going? What is your core strategy for sustaining your legacy?
Simply put; collaboration!
What policy changes would you advise the authorities to make in order to create more awareness on the gains of breastfeeding?
They should consider nursing mums. Giving all nursing mother's maternity leave up to six months without criteria like for the first two children. To provide lactation breaks and breastfeeding rooms at workplaces as well as in public places like mall etc.
What is your take on the move by the Federal Government to make law providing for six months maternity leave for mothers? Isn't that counterproductive?
This is not counterproductive. Six months maternity leave is ideal. The government also need to be sure organisations will not count this leave against these mothers such that it does not elongate the period to their next promotion or see them as less competent because of this.
What is your final word for nursing mothers?
Breastfeeding is not always easy. The earlier you reach out for help with any problem the better. You are doing an amazing job breastfeeding your baby.