“I found it very hard to do exclusive breastfeeding – my maternity leave ended when my child was just three months; I had to escape from the school where I used to teach to breastfeed her” said Betty Awuor.
Baby nutrition has done a full 360 degree turnaround in recent times. In the 1970’s and 80’s in Kenya, mothers took such pride in feeding their little ones formula and big debates raged on about which formula was better than the other and which one was more ‘high class’ than the other. Empty formula tins were put on display for guests to see. This was perceived as a mark of good infant nutrition. Furthermore, weaning was generally observed from the fourth month with many a mother shoving the three P’s porridge, pumpkin and pawapaw down their babies’ throats.
Much has since been said and done and the information and education campaign on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life has taken root in the country. The newer mums from the Baby Boom and Generation X era have since caught on and forged forwards despite cries from their mothers and grandmothers that they were ‘starving’ their children in this exclusive fad. The IRIN report on exclusive breastfeeding in Kenya indicates that there has been significant rise to boost the practice in the country with notable legal and regulatory support.
However, a significant challenge still remains to haunt the modern Mum. Although in Kenya legislation allows women to take 90 days maternity leave together with annual leave (Kenya Employment Act 2007), this only serves to cover 4 months at best and leaves the mother a balance of two months to juggle breastfeeding needs. Many mothers make the valiant attempt to express milk and store it properly in advance to tide them over the 2 month (or more) period and continue to do so at the work place. Others try to negotiate with their employers to have a flexi work system that allows for leaving early or coming in late or extending their lunch break to accommodate their exclusive breast feeding bid. It is encouraging to see that in some places this has worked.
What happens though to the mother who doesn’t have these options? And as nature has it, the less the baby breastfeeding (given Mum is now away longer hours at work) the less the milk production. Many mothers have become highly strung and depressed from their inability to reach their well-intended 6 month goal. Mothers have turned to online platforms to seek wisdom from other mothers and many solutions are bandied about for extra production of milk including un – researched herbs, supplements and concoctions. The results of these experiments are hardly ever reported.
Mothers need to be advised to take each day at a time and to understand their baby’s needs. Mothers are all different and what works for one may not work for another. If for any reason one faces insurmountable challenges and is not able to breast feed, it does not make one any less of a mother to see what the next best alternative could be. It would be advisable to seek the services of one’s medical practitioner to see advice on lactation matters. Should the next best option be advised as formula then utmost care must be taken to determine what constitutes a good quality variety, and to have the preparation process including clean water for mixing and washing of baby utensils as sterile as possible.
There isn’t any single solution to solve the world’s baby nutrition needs and so parents, the challenge is out to you to do what is best for baby.