Exclusive Breastfeeding: Improving Maternal and Child Health

The World Breastfeeding Week is marked each year between 1st and 7th August. And so is the advocacy for exclusive breastfeeding.

The aim is to highlight the benefits that breastfeeding brings to both the health and welfare of babies.

Furthermore, this week aims to focus on good maternal health with a focus on good nutrition, protecting against infection, poverty reduction and food security.

The World Breastfeeding Week’s theme this year is “Protecting breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility” emphasizing on the importance of supporting mothers to breastfeed as long as they wish.

The World Health Organization states that over 820,000 children could be saved yearly if all children 0-23 months were optimally breastfed.

Advantages of Exclusive Breastfeeding
  1. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months has many benefits for the infant and mother, key among these is protection against gastrointestinal infections which is observed not only in developing but also industrialized countries.
  2. Early initiation of breastfeeding, within 1 hour of birth, protects the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality.
  3. The risk of mortality due to diarrhea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.
  4. According to WHO, breast milk is an important source of energy and nutrients in children 6-23 months.
  5. Breast milk contains anti-bodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria while lowering the baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies.
  6. Moreover, it is a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.
  7. Furthermore, children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese, perform better on intelligence tests and higher school attendance.
  8. Longer durations of breastfeeding also contribute to the health and wellbeing of mothers by reducing the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies.
  9. Exclusive breastfeeding of babies under 6 months has a hormonal effect which often induces a lack of menstruation. It can be achieved through a natural (though not 100 percent safe) method of birth control known as the Lactation Amenorrhea Method.

Improving child development and reducing health costs results in economic gains for individual families as well as at the national level.

Mothers need to be supported for their children to be optimally breastfed. The World Health Organization states that in order to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, the following actions need to be upheld;

  • Adoption of policies such as the International Labour Organization’s “Maternity Protection Convention 183”and “Recommendation No. 191”, which complements “Convention No. 183” by suggesting a longer duration of leave and higher benefits.
  • Adoption of the “International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes” and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions.
  • Provision of supportive health services with infant and young child feeding counselling during all contacts with caregivers and young children, such as during antenatal and postnatal care, well-child and sick child visits, and immunization.
  • Community support, including mother support groups and community-based health promotion and education activities.

Kenya is a signatory to treaties that provide for the right of an infant to exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months but only 3 months leave given to the mothers making exclusive breastfeeding hard to achieve.

The government therefore should promote and encourage breastfeeding and provide the specific measures that would present opportunities for working mothers to continue expressing their milk and continue breastfeeding their infant.

To ensure that breastfeeding plays a critical role in contributing to the wellbeing of mothers and children, various stakeholders including men and women at the national level and in the community should be at the forefront of promoting and providing a supportive environment for breastfeeding either at work or at home.

Through the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2019, the Kenyan government has strived to promote breastfeeding by mandating employers to provide breastfeeding employees with lactation rooms to either breastfeed or express milk for their children.

But only a few stakeholders including AMREF Health Africa, has a fully equipped lactation room; enabling mothers to bring their babies, leave them at the station with the nanny and get to see them anytime throughout the day.

According to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, only 37 companies in 2018 had lactation rooms including Sarova-Panafric hotel and Radisson Blue hotel; most were not conducive enough to breastfeeding mothers.

Many more institutions in Kenya have to respect the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill by setting aside fully equipped lactations rooms according to the set out guidelines by the Ministry of Health.

Let us all come together to support the health and wellbeing of our mothers and babies- a healthy nation is one of the surest way of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of schedule!

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