Proper breastfeeding, a life-saver for many mothers

Monday, August 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Breastfeeding. Photo/Courtesy

It may seem an innate skill, but lactating women need to learn how to breastfeed thus support of healthcare practitioners, families and community is vital.

Saumu Savai was forced to quit her job one month before delivery, and with plans to stay home for a year, she wants to give her child undivided attention — something she believes would not happen if she goes back to work.

The workload, long hours and traffic challenges are among the reasons she made this decision.

“My baby just turned three months. I do not want to go back to work, especially now that Covid-19 cases keep rising.

As a stay-at-home mother, I can give my daughter all the attention she needs without exposing her to the virus,” she says.

The late-night breastfeeding also factored in her decision to quit her job. 

Fortunately for the first-time mother, the help she received at Pumwani Maternity Hospital has gone a long way to ease her breastfeeding experience.

“They were patient with me and handled my child gently. Being a new mother, they patiently taught me how to breastfeed and clean my baby— I had a hard time breastfeeding immediately after giving birth since my nipples hurt and this continued for days then was followed by cracked nipples,” recalls Saumu.

Although nurses assured her it was a normal occurrence, she was concerned about her infant not getting enough breast milk supply. 

“On such occurrences, I would reach out to a nurse I had built rapport with and she guided me on how to breastfeed properly over the phone until breastfeeding became something I enjoyed,” adds Saumu.

For Tracy Wangeci, a mother of two, work-life balance is particularly difficult for working mothers.

Despite the challenges, Wangeci tried to breastfeed her children exclusively for six months. 

“I got pregnant with my first child right when my career was taking off. I was expected to resume work three months after giving birth and I can tell you childcare is challenging for working mothers.

I breastfed my child exclusively for four months then I introduced formula milk since I couldn’t pump enough milk in the morning before leaving for work.

This stressed me up to the point of my breast milk almost drying up. I contemplated quitting my office administration job, but we needed the money,” recalls Wangeci.

In Kenya, a majority of working women resume work within three months after birth contributing to a rapid decrease in breastfeeding rates. 

Beatrice Marube, a nutritionist, notes  that health workers should explain to mothers the physiology of lactation, boost their confidence, and encourage them to breastfeed.

 “Breastfeeding is a skill that is learned - mothers are not born knowing how to breastfeed.

Healthcare workers, more especially lactation managers should support mothers to be able to breastfeed successfully by demonstrating and showing mother’s proper attachment and positioning of the baby on the breast as this will go a long way in ensuring mothers breastfeed successfully,” explains Marube.

She also advises that working mothers should strive for exclusive breastfeeding as recommended by experts.

A learned skill

“A mother who plans to return to work after giving birth should plan early to ensure the child continues with exclusive breastfeeding.

They can express excess milk and store it in the freezer and it should always be used on a first in first out basis.

Those women without storage facilities are disadvantaged but that should not stop them from expressing breast milk since it can last up to eight hours under room temperature,” says Marube.

Breast milk is universally considered as an ideal food for infants, it not only provides nutrients, but also contains antibodies and immunoglobulins that help fight against diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, thus enhancing their immunity.

“Breast milk is the first food for all infants immediately after birth, it is very important because it is also the first immunisation the newborn receives since the milk introduces immunity for the child.

Some of its other benefits include low incidences of infectious deaths, lower post-neonatal infant mortality, and enhanced performance on the test and cognitive development,” adds Marube.

Although breastfeeding is considered as normal, Marube notes women and children both find it difficult if the proper technique is not applied.

The incompatibility between expectations about breastfeeding and the reality of the mothers’ early experience with it has been identified as a key reason why many mothers stop breastfeeding within the first two weeks postpartum. 

“Breastfeeding is a skill that both the mother and the child learn through professional assistance. Some women experience sore nipple pain during lactation, engorged and mastitis breasts because of simple things like positioning and attachment of the baby while breastfeeding,” explains Marube.

She adds, “The child’s tummy should always face the mother when breastfeeding.

Their tummies should touch, but you will find most mothers breastfeed their babies while their babies are facing up and in what looks like a sitting position.

Also, the child should attach its mouth to the areola and not the nipples, these will make the experience bearable for both the mother and the child.”

According to Marube, breastfeeding practices have improved in the country, and family and community support is key in successful breastfeeding.

A mother who is assisted with family work and childcare will have ample time to breastfeed.

Progressive initiatives

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 notes exclusive breastfeeding rates have improved from 32 per cent in 2008 to 61 per cent in 2014.

Consequently, these efforts have contributed directly and indirectly to the reduction of infant and child mortality rate from 74/1,000 live births in 2008 to 52/1,000 live births in 2014.

Unicef’s 2018 data,  ranks Kenya among top 10 countries where infants were exclusively breastfed for six months, attaining over 60 per cent rate.

The growing number of children being exclusively breastfed for the first months of their lives in the country is due to various measures by the government and other stakeholders to encourage nursing mothers to wait before they can introduce food to infants. 

The Health Act 2017 requires employers to grant all nursing employees breaks for nursing in addition to regular times off for meals.

The Act also requires employers to establish lactation stations in the workplace, which shall be adequately provided with necessary equipment and facilities for mothers.

 “Very few corporates have set up breastfeeding centres, marking a sluggish implementation of a legislature aimed at boosting six months exclusive breastfeeding and ensuring a friendly working environment for mothers.

A majority of these companies are headed by men who do not understand the positive side of breast feeding,” said Hon Isaac Mwaura during the Big Latch On webinar held in observance of the World Breastfeeding Week that ran between August 1 and August 7.

“Involving men in this conversation will help them understand the role they play in nurturing a healthy community by supporting breastfeeding.

Today, public breastfeeding is still frowned upon— a majority of men perceive public breastfeeding as exposure of sexual parts since a woman’s breasts are sexualised yet they should be seen as multi-purpose,” he added.

The senator says to break barriers, there is a need for champions in working institutions who will amplify the issue and reward institutions that implement such policies.

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