Kenya: Breastfeeding Saves Lives - Give It to All Children

Bottles of pumped breast milk (file photo).

The World Breastfeeding Week is commemorated every first week of August and the theme this year is "Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet". The best nutrition for the baby in their first six months is mother's milk. The mother is, therefore, expected to breastfeed the baby exclusively for the period. The mother should be supported to achieve this goal.

The Health Act 2017 stipulates that employers must provide a clean and safe room for breastfeeding mothers to nurse their babies or express milk.

The law is categorical that this lactation room should not be a bathroom or toilet. However, a quick scan at Kenyan offices shows that many mothers still have no alternative but use the toilet to express milk for their children since employers still refuse to make this crucial provision.

Public toilets

It is difficult to imagine the practicality of manoeuvering within the tiny public toilets to find the proper posture and a surface to place containers to collect milk.

It begs the question of why we would treat mothers in such a third-class manner and still expect to have a healthy generation, fed on milk collected from the toilets.

Two years ago, a restaurant in Nairobi came under fire for allegedly throwing out a woman for breastfeeding. This led to a public outcry and angry reactions in the social media.

Mothers will be happy that the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2019 protects the right of women to breastfeed a baby in public and that will not be interpreted as indecent exposure. This means that mothers will continue to breastfeed anywhere any time their babies demand for milk and, hopefully, breastfeeding in public will continue being normal.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every infant and child has a right to proper nutrition. Some organisations have, over the years, supported mothers, especially career women, to achieve six months exclusive breastfeeding based on the guidelines of the WHO and Unicef in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.

Breastfeeding and bonding

Achieving optimal breastfeeding saves lives. It is crucial that mothers are supported by hospitals and their staff to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of life and receive proper information on how to properly latch the baby.

This simple yet crucial information will chart the way for successful breastfeeding and bonding for mother and baby. Hospital staff should be trained in lactation techniques as they are the first caregivers for newborns and their mothers.

The career woman is largely under-supported. They have to leave at home a tiny infant to go to work, and there be constantly humiliated by having to find a boardroom or toilet to express some milk.

Let us support our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers to breastfeed their babies by providing flexible working hours, breastfeeding breaks and the proper information and support that will reduce the disease burden in Kenya and make this a much healthier planet for our children.

The author is a gender expert.

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