According to World Health Organisation (WHO), breastfeeding is the best way of providing babies with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development and can protect infants against infectious and chronic diseases. Furthermore, the WHO promotes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life, reducing the risk of infant mortality from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia. It can also help babies recover more quickly from illnesses.
This week, 1 – 7 August, is World Breastfeeding Week. The theme this year is ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding Together’. There are many issues that may arise when a baby is born that could mean exclusively breastfeeding is challenging for the mother, such as beliefs and practises associated with breastfeeding or if the baby is born sick and has to spend time in an incubator.
Linda Kagasi from the County Innovation Challenge Fund (CICF) in Kenya shares her own personal experience as a new mother after having her first born and the challenges she faced while breastfeeding:
“When I first saw my son, I was over joyed and made a decision to exclusively give him breast milk for the first six months as prescribed. I remember telling my mother this and she was in shock. Her first words still ring in my mind to this day “won’t the baby feel hungry; won’t he need water to quench his thirst?”. She then went silent when she realised I had made up my mind. Every time my son cried she would say it’s because he is hungry and breastmilk is not enough to satisfy a baby. With time and after a lot of reading she later became an advocate for breastfeeding and supported me and my husband, through a very tough six months, which saw my son only take breastmilk.
“This kind of fear from my own mother brought a lot of questions and I wondered if indeed she was right and all the literature was wrong. The situation was not made easy when I had to resume work. I had to express milk, ensure it was stored well and was enough for the time I was away in the office. Luckily I had a good employer who allowed me to work for five hours a day; this allowed me to reach home, in time to express more milk and also breastfeed my son. I would say I am a mother who is lucky and privileged to be allowed to breastfeed my child and also progress in my career. My situation made me think, how many mothers in Kenya can afford the equipment, storage facilities and to express breast milk, and an employer who provides flexible working hours. Additionally, how many mothers have the family support that provides a conducive environment to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months?
The blissful dreams of motherhood become a total nightmare when faced with such challenges, that require mothers to provide the best for their child, and the difficulty in ensuring the child is exclusively breast fed as recommended. The importance of emotional and socio-economic support to the entire family cannot be over emphasised. This enabled me to exclusively breastfeed my son for the first six months. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, 61% of the mothers reported to have exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their baby’s life. This shows us the need to embrace innovative approaches that will support breastfeeding of our children as recommended by the WHO, with an aim of reducing childhood illnesses and promote good health outcomes for the mother.
While this is a major improvement from 37% just five years earlier, a sheer number of newborns still miss out on the lifesaving goodness that is breastmilk. We call for urgent and innovative approaches to address this. That is exactly why investments such as the CICF are necessary. Through CICF, Kenya is about to make a major stride with its first ever Human Milk Banking in East Africa, that is being pioneered by PATH and the Ministry of Health."
The County Innovation Challenge Fund is funded by UKAid from the UK government and managed by Options and KPMG under the Maternal and Newborn Improvement project. The CICF invests in innovative interventions, products, processes, services, technologies and ideas that will reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Kenya.