Breastfeeding: Natural act, but not always easy
This week, the world marks World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) under the theme, “Step up for Breastfeeding; Educate and Support” with a focus on strengthening the capacity of actors who are responsible for protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding across different levels of society.
The theme is aligned with the thematic area one of the WBW-Sustainable Development Goal 2030 campaign, which highlights the links between breastfeeding and good nutrition, food security and reduction of inequalities.
However, breastfeeding is never easy. It can be a challenging and even painful journey for many. Still, many women find once they get through the early weeks of breastfeeding, the journey becomes easier.
Nancy Chiuri is a mother of five boys and a women fitness personal trainer working under her brand Mama Fitness Kenya. She managed to exclusively breastfeed three of her sons for six months and the other two for five months.
“My husband, Frederick Chiuri and I have five boys; we call them ‘Arrows’ borrowing from Psalms 127:3-5. Our first-born is eight years, second born is seven years, the third born is five turning six in a few days, fourth born is four and our acting last born is two years and seven months old,” says Nancy.
She shares how breastfeeding was painful at first. She offers: “I still remember the first moment I breastfed my first-born son. It was such a painful experience, but the best moment of my life was to see a little tiny baby feeding. My nipples cracked and became sore with unbearable pain. I would freak out every time I needed to breastfeed the baby. However, walking the journey with my paediatrician made it easier for me.”
The experience with each baby, she says, was different considering that her mental and physical state was not the same. “Sometimes, it was exhausting and other times it was lovely. However, the joy was to always see the baby having a full stomach after every feed. The knowledge of knowing what to expect and what to do made the journey easier for all the children. I have never been a mum to a girl, hence I am not quite sure if the breastfeeding experience for boys and girls is different or the same. But what I would say is that I always needed a boobie break,” Nancy explains.
Consulting a lactation expert was helpful for her in terms of increasing her breast milk supply.
She opines: “I got to learn that for one to increase their breast milk supply, it takes more than just diet. Several factors could affect milk supply and include the mental health state of a mother, her emotional well-being and the diet. Being a women fitness trainer, I always tried to balance the above three factors and the result was amazing. Besides taking a lot of healthy fluids, I made sure that I pumped most of the time too.”
As a working mum, Nancy says breastfeeding was not a walk in the park. “I was always worried about pumping and if I could still be able to maintain the milk supply. With the help of the lactation expert, I was able to have a pumping plan. I am also glad that while breastfeeding some of my babies, I was at home on career break and didn’t have to worry at all,” she shares.
Nancy is grateful for the support she received. “Breastfeeding can be quite a challenge. There is a huge learning curve for both mum and baby. I am grateful to have a supportive spouse during that season. Family and close friends were of great help too,” she says.
Learning on the job
Just like Nancy, Ruth Kayima, a mother of two children aged six years (a boy) and six months old (a girl) also didn’t have it easy.
“It was challenging… more challenging than I had expected. I thought that being a health worker who had the knowledge and theory would make it easy. However, the real life experience caught me by surprise,” says Ruth.
“It is a sacrifice that requires a lot of mental and physical effort. I struggled with balancing work, home and ensuring a steady supply of breast milk. Getting to the six months when maternity leave is only three months was difficult with my firstborn given that I travel a lot for work. It would mean travelling with him, and making extra effort to pump milk for him when away,” she explains.
Ruth, a public health practitioner who currently works as a regional health and gender coordinator at a non-governmental organisation is grateful to have been able to exclusively breastfeed her two children.
“It is not always a guarantee since mums and babies are faced with so many challenges that would make adequate breastfeeding impossible,” she says.
“I ensured I had a balanced diet in adequate portions. Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to ‘eat for two’. Hydration is key and drinking two to three litres of water daily helped me. Also, no matter how good the diet is, one will not be able to produce enough milk if they are not well rested or if stressed,” she adds
Weighing the benefits that come with exclusive breastfeeding, a strong family support system and having a workplace with a good breastfeeding policy gave her zeal to exclusively breastfeed her children.
Ruth offers: “Kenya has come a long way in terms of putting in place policies and structures to support the adequate feeding and nutrition of infants and children. I believe that ensuring adequate breastfeeding is a community responsibility. Families need to ensure mothers have a conducive environment, proper diets and reduced work load at this time. More education and one on one support for mothers is important. We need more breastfeeding counsellors at the community level who can support mums who face various challenges with breastfeeding.”