Breastfeeding Action: Enforce friendly policies for breastfeeding mothers
The world is marking the Breastfeeding Week, an annual celebration from August 1 to August 7. It is organised by the World Health Organisation, Unicef and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of human life. This is followed by two years or beyond of breastfeeding with complimentary foods.
In Kenya, concerned organisations have been holding annual walks to mark the week, with the aim of promoting best practices in breastfeeding to ensure babies get optimum benefits.
Yet, some may wonder what is the big deal about breastfeeding. Isn’t it a natural phenomenon that mothers effortlessly ease into once they deliver? Or is this just another one of those over-emphasized women’s roles meant to spark a gender war?
Truth is, breastfeeding, as natural and obvious as it seems, is still a big issue globally for many reasons. In some countries, women are arrested for breastfeeding in public on grounds of indecent exposure.
Until recently, in the United States, a lactating mother had to check whether the law of the respective state allows breastfeeding in public. But last year, breastfeeding was made legal in all 50 US states.
Closer home, despite breastfeeding in public being widely acceptable in Kenya, debate still rages on whether it is okay to do it in public, including in church or when using public transport.
Breastfeeding mothers still have to choose between their babies and career, which mostly involves being away from home for long hours, making it hard for them to continue breastfeeding exclusively.
Despite the law providing for paid three-month maternity leave, not all employers allow mothers to break for the said period. Some are forced to cut short their leave or risk losing their jobs.
Those who come back after the leave are forced to make a choice between stopping breastfeeding or expressing milk in toilets, compromising hygiene and the wellbeing of babies.
Few employers bother to provide mothers with a hygienic lactation station, from where they can express milk.
If WHO and UNICEF recommend a six-month period for exclusive breastfeeding, why can’t governments draft a bill increasing the maternity leave to six moths, with the last three months given as half-day from work?
It is worth noting that despite Parliament passing the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill two years ago, it is still pending awaiting presidential assent.
Breastfeeding is in line with the Big Four agenda pillar on health. Breastfeeding has an enormous impact on the health and survival of children, and reduces the health burdens of a country.
The global breastfeeding theme this year is Empower parents: Enable breastfeeding now and for the future. In this day and age, a mother should not continue to receive awkward stares for breasfeeding in public. Let babies feed anywhere, any time. The writer is founder and chairperson, Career Mothers for Exclusive Breastfeeding (Camfeb)