Is exclusive breastfeeding realistic for Kenyan mothers?

baby breastfeeding
baby breastfeeding

What you need to know:

  • Lack of private and decent breastfeeding areas has complicated the situation for most mothers who return to work after maternity leave.

New mothers in Kenya are allowed up to three months of paid maternity leave.

This means that women juggling motherhood with their career return to work before they can complete the critical six month period of exclusive breastfeeding.

This has left many mothers daunted as they struggle to exclusively breastfeed while at work.

One of the major contributing factors to this dilemma, particularly in Kenya, is the lack of breastfeeding spaces at the workplace.

Lack of private and decent breastfeeding areas as well as shaming of breastfeeding mothers has complicated the situation for most women who return to work after maternity leave. This has led to many babies being sub-optimally breastfed.

Benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for babies

Exclusive breastfeeding means babies only take breast milk and no other solid or liquid foods – with the exception of medications, vitamins, and oral rehydration salts – during the recommended first six months of their lives.

“Breastfeeding protects [the child] against diarrhoea, common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence,” the World Health Organisation says in its exclusive breastfeeding guide.

During the first days after delivery, a new mother will produce a highly nutritious breast fluid known as colostrum.

Colostrum is low on sugar, but contains high levels of antibodies such as immunoglobulin A (IgA), which are proteins that fight infections and bacteria.

The immunoglobulin A (IgA) works by forming a protective layer in your baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system, which protect the baby from falling sick.

Breastfeeding also significantly reduces the risk of illnesses such as gut infections, respiratory tract infections, diabetes type 1 and 2, childhood leukemia, colds and infections, sudden infant death syndrome, mid ear infections, allergies, intestinal tissue damage, and bowel diseases.

WHO also recommends that breastfeeding continues for up to two years after the first six months, with appropriate complementary baby foods.

Benefits of breastfeeding for mothers

A report that was released in May 2018 from the Health Ministry on securing a breastfeeding friendly environment at the workplace lists such benefits as follows:

  • Breast cancer prevention
  • Reduced chances of diabetes
  • Reduced chances of ovarian cancer
  • Lowerered risk of developing osteoporosis – a medical condition in which bones become weak and brittle.
  • Every year of breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by 6 per cent.

Expressing milk from the breast

Expressing milk has been more challenging than breastfeeding due to exposure and process.

While a mother can opt to cover her baby while breastfeeding, expressing milk requires more exposure and hygienic facilities such as clean water and sinks. 

“Employers need to promote and facilitate breastfeeding at work. Donations of tents and booths to be set up in markets and at bus stops can also boost breastfeeding in the informal sector and public spaces,” Laura Kiige, a nutritionist at the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the media during last year’s event to commemorate breastfeeding week.

Exclusive breastfeeding law

Fortunately, Kenya has not only been promoting exclusive breastfeeding through social advocacy.

Currently, there is a law that provides for mandatory breastfeeding spaces for new working mothers under the Health Act 2017, which was enacted four years ago.

The law requires all employers to provide feeding stations for new working mothers.

Any organisation with more than 30 employees is expected to establish a lactation area for breastfeeding mothers, which is equipped with a storage refrigerator, changing area for the baby, and a comfortable chair.

The Act also requires employers to allow mothers to have a 40-minute break every four hours during which they can breastfeed or express breast milk for their babies.

Corporates adapting

By 2018, 35 corporates under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance had set up breastfeeding areas for their women employees. 

These included Safaricom, World Vision, Kenya Red Cross, Nation Media Group, International Medical Corps, Mabati Rolling Mills, and the KWFT Microfinance.

Individual entrepreneurs have also taken up the challenge and are opening up spaces for their employees who are lactating mothers. 

Janet Mulei, a mother of three, who is the founder and director of Diamond Junior School, has a room at her institution dedicated for staff who are breastfeeding.

“We have also introduced a program where in addition to the three-month maternity leave, new mums work half day until their baby is six months [old]. This will allow such mothers the opportunity to exclusively breastfeed and bond with their babies,” she says. 

Breastfeeding takeaway

  • Most career mothers will tend to discontinue breastfeeding their babies exclusively at four months since they return to work after maternity leave is over.
  • Increased exclusive breastfeeding has aided the reduction of infant and child mortality rate from 74 out of every 1,000 live births in 2008 to 52 out of every 1,000 live births in 2014.
  • It is estimated that 823,000 children can be saved annually in the world by scaling up exclusive breastfeeding.

What a mothers' room should have

A room for breastfeeding mothers is required to have the following::

  • A door signage
  • A comfortable chair that can fit next to the table where the breast pump can be placed
  • An electric outlet
  • Lockable cabinets
  • A sink with running water
  • Personal protective gear
  • Clean up supplies and facilities such as liquid soap and disinfectants
  • A refrigerator or nearby access to a refrigerator

What to consider for an electric pump

With technological advancements, most working mothers may prefer using electric gadgets to express breast milk. The Ministry of Health recommends that if you choose to use an electric pump:

  • You should express breast milk from both breasts completely each time. This will help you to maintain milk output.
  • Double pumping will reduce the time of expression by 10 to 15 minutes. It will also allow for higher prolactin reflex which will result in a higher amount in less time.